Whitecaps fan group plans limited walkout over club response to abuse allegations

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If you’re going to the Whitecaps game Wednesday at BC Place, you’ll see an odd sight in the 35th minute.

Members of the Southsiders fan group plan to leave their seats for the final 10 minutes of the first half — and they’re asking you to join them.

Southsiders vice-president Paul Sabourin-Hertzog says the protest is intended to show support for former members of the women’s team who have brought forward abuse allegations dating back more than a decade, centring on a coach who oversaw the Whitecaps women and U-20 women’s national soccer squads.

“We feel compelled to express ourselves to show a visible sign of our anger and disgust.”

The accusations involve the coach touching at least one player inappropriately, sending text messages with sexual tones to members of his squad, and asking players to meet privately with him in his hotel room.

“We feel compelled to express ourselves to show a visible sign of our anger and disgust at how these women were treated and the continued silence from the same Whitecaps executives responsible for the original insufficient actions of the club,” Sabourin-Hertzog said.

RELATED: Whitecaps contact police following abuse accusations

The group backs the call from more than a dozen women who want a detailed examination of what took place.

“We want there to be an accounting, an in-depth review or investigation into what occurred in 2008, and, if possible, for those findings to be made public,” Sabourin-Hertzog said.

After their initial walk out, the Southsiders will return to their seats for the 2nd half.

The group emphasizes it still wishes to support the players and staff involved with the MLS team and this protest is directed at the executive team. Asked to be explicit about which executives this action is directed toward, Sabourin-Hertzog named president Bob Lenarduzzi, chief operating officer Rachel Lewis and vice-president of soccer operations Greg Anderson.

“We, as the public and the people who pay their salaries … deserve to see their reactions in a much more public forum.”

If Whitecaps executives do not publicly address the allegations or react appropriately, the fan group says it will consider further protests — it says the soccer club must put forward someone to take questions.

“We, as the public and the people who pay their salaries ultimately, deserve to see their reactions in a much more public forum than just an impassive corporate statement that is repeated to anybody who asks,” Sabourin-Hertzog said.

The coach at the centre of these allegations was recently suspended by White Rock/Surrey based Coastal FC, where he had been coaching girls teams in recent years. That came after former Whitecaps women’s player Ciara McCormack first went public with her allegations in February. She was joined by more than a dozen former players who released a joint statement on April 1.

RELATED: Former Whitecaps women’s player claims abuse, calls for system overhaul

The former Whitecaps and Canadian U-20 players are also upset over Canada Soccer’s handling of this situation — and specifically the fact this coach was still involved with young women following his departure from the Whitecaps. They claim they were promised he would no longer be involved in coaching young girls.

NEWS 1130 has previously contacted the coach at the centre of these accusations and he has not responded. None of the claims against this man have been proven in court.

Since the allegations were first brought forward in Februrary, the Whitecaps organization and Canada Soccer have repeatedly declined requests for an interview on these issues.

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