'We are sorry': Whitecaps owners issue statement on abuse allegations

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Published May 1, 2019 6:30 p.m. ET
Updated May 2, 2019 11:18 a.m. ET
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The Vancouver Whitecaps are apologizing for any "pain and suffering" female players may have experienced in connection with abuse allegations made against an ex-coach.

In a letter signed by owners Jeff Mallett and Greg Kerfoot, the club says they care deeply about the harm the woman who reported the complaints endured.

Alongside the letter, the club also released a detailed timeline of the steps it took when the abuse allegations were reported to management, starting on May 23, 2008.

It claims that no member of the executive team had been informed by anyone or player that there had been a complaint about the coach and sexually inappropriate conduct before that date.

The team also says on the day the allegations were reported, it immediately retained an ombudsperson to investigate.

"We express sincere regret and empathy for the harm that has clearly come to many women who participated in our program at that time," the letter reads.

The letter addresses a blog post written by former player Ciara McCormack earlier this year.

The unproven allegations involve the former coach of a youth soccer program in Surrey, who coached the Whitecaps women's team in 2008 and worked with the Canadian women's national team program.

After her blog post was published earlier this year, the Whitecaps contacted Vancouver police with the new allegations.

Vancouver police haven't confirmed if they're investigating the allegations, only that they have "been made aware" of the blog.

The letter says the team launched an independent investigation into the allegations at the time – a process that was later criticized by McCormack and other female players – and says it adopted an "extensive respectful workplace policy" afterwards.

"We believe we had the best of the best ombudsperson," Mallett told CTV News Vancouver.

He said it was important to have both himself and Kerfoot sign the letter and put a face to how the Whitecaps addressed the allegations made against the club.

Mallett wasn't part of the ownership group at the time. Kerfoot owned the team after saving it from bankruptcy.

When asked about how the allegations were handled, Mallett defended his co-owner.

"I didn’t personally see anything concerning about how it was going about," he said.

The Whitecaps' approach up until this point has been criticized by former players and supporter groups.

In a tweet, McCormack criticized the latest letter.

"Initial personal reaction to WFC letter: No sincerity, no accountability (and) many, many unanswered questions remain," she wrote.

Last month, the soccer team said it would be starting a third-party review and assessment of its workplace policies.

The owners reiterated that stance in the letter and say they have begun interviewing candidates to lead the review and will share the results of the investigation publicly.

"By advocating for those who have been hurt, we can all help clear the way for safer sport for all women and foster and environment free of discrimination and harassment in which girls and women can thrive."

The coach was let go from his position with the Whitecaps and the Canadian Soccer Association on Oct. 8, 2008.

Mallett says the team has reached out to past players, supporter groups and others about the issue.

"This incident is one that we need to bring the light back on, double check, triple check on this. Make sure, like I said, not only that it doesn’t happen again but we hold higher standards," he said.

Supporter groups have recently staged protests and fans have spoken publicly about cancelling their season tickets, something Mallett said has taken a personal toll.

He called for fans to have patience with the team.

"I would say we are real people who really care, put all these years and efforts into it, it's our personal thing and I'm taking it personally," he said. "I would ask them to please give us the time and give us the chance to come back. Listen to everything that comes out and give it a fair judgement."

Mallett said he wouldn't rule out further changes, but said he doesn't envisage making any changes to the team's executive management.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Jason Pires

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