Disgraced Canadian soccer coach in court on sexual charge as women’s game is brought to justice

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Former women’s coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada national team, Bob Birarda, is due to appear in BC provincial court on Thursday on nine sexual charges.

Birarda is charged with six sexual exploitation, two sexual assault and one child luring charges, crimes alleged to have occurred in or near North Vancouver between January 1, 1988 and March 25, 2008, Burnaby and West Vancouver.

The names of the four complainants are protected by a publication ban. CBC has learned that at least three of the four are former soccer players.

Birarda is released on bail and has yet to appeal. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The case is also gaining additional attention outside of Canada as women’s football comes into the spotlight around the world for the wrong reasons.

The largest women’s professional league in the world is south of the border where in turmoil last week Two National Women’s Soccer League players accused a prominent coach of sexual assault.

NWSL players also accuse the league of participating in a cover-up that allowed Paul Riley to continue training for six years after one of the players first complained.

Ciara McCormack, the former Whitecaps player who first spoke about alleged abusive behavior by Birarda, said it had been difficult to watch the NWSL situation evolve.

Ciara McCormack, former Vancouver Whitecaps player, says women’s football is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning with a string of abuse scandals around the world, including Canada. (CBC)

“It’s almost like witnessing a car accident you’ve been in,” she said. “Listening to the two women from the NWSL come forward and describe their situation … is shocking. But then it’s not shocking because you lived the situation.”

Fallout in the NWSL was instant. League commissioner Lisa Baird resigned and Riley was fired and his coaching license revoked.

According to McCormack, Birarda still holds his Canada Soccer coaching license.

His court appearance on Thursday was originally scheduled for January 28, 2021, but has been postponed eight times.

A criminal defense attorney not involved in the case said delays in alleged historical crimes were common.

“That can take months, depending on how complex the case is,” said Paul Doroshenko. “The lawyers need to find out what is allowed and what is not allowed.”

With abuse scandals also in Australia and VenezuelaMcCormack says that women’s football is in the middle of a long overdue reckoning.

“I think it’s positive because it makes everyone think about what we’ve endured so far and how everything really has to change.”

Birarda was released in October 2008 with little explanation from his duties as head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team and the Canadian U20 women’s team.

The Canadian Football Association then called it a mutual separation. Within a few months he was coaching girls on a club team in Tsawwassen, BC

He was suspended from training at Surrey, BC, Club Coastal FC in February 2019 after McCormack blogged “A Horrific Canadian Soccer Story”.

In the months after the blog was posted, former Team Canada players claimed that Birarda sent sexualized text messages and made sexual comments to players, inappropriately touched players, and used his position of power to make sexual advances.



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