The Vancouver Whitecaps name Canadian Stephanie Labbe as GM of women’s soccer

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The recently retired Canada goalkeeper delivers an emotional message by vowing to protect and promote women’s football

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A “closed circle” has brought Stephanie Labbé back to where it all ended, where it all could begin, and to a club at the center of a maelstrom of abuse allegations surrounding women’s football in Canada.

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The former Canada national team goaltender was hired by the Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday as the new general manager of women’s soccer, and she vowed to use her platform and voice to promote and protect women’s soccer in Canada in an emotionally charged press.

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“One thing I’ve learned in my career is the power of your voice; the power not to use your voice and the power to use it,” said Labbé, who sometimes paused to hold back tears.

“I’m very, very confident in using my voice in a way to support those who don’t feel safe using (their) or who don’t have the platform.

“…I want to show that I will be a voice that remains committed to ensuring athletes have safe spaces to speak out on these issues. Abuse has no place in our sport – in any sport – in Canada and through this job, this platform, I want to say to every victim, anyone who has ever been subjected to abuse or has been in such a challenging situation that I am here for you am . I will be a voice that will speak up for you to keep fighting for you.

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“And I promise to do my best to take this club in a whole new direction, to stand up, have tough talks, enforce transparency and honesty going forward.”

The 35-year-old Canadian football icon – best known as Defense Secretary – ended her playing career at BC Place Stadium in April as Canada faced Nigeria in the two-game ‘Celebration Series’.

Axel Schuster, President and CEO of Whitecaps, had previously made offers to Labbé to join the club, but it wasn’t until after she officially hung up her gloves that talks turned serious.

Stephanie Labbé (right) is introduced by club president and CEO Axel Schuster as the Vancouver Whitecaps' new general manager of women's soccer on Thursday.
Stephanie Labbé (right) is introduced by club president and CEO Axel Schuster as the Vancouver Whitecaps’ new general manager of women’s soccer on Thursday. Photo by Darryl Dyck /The Canadian Press

Labbé will be responsible for the Whitecaps’ women’s program, working closely with Emma Humphries, director of women’s football development, and the elite REX program led by head coach Katie Collar.

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Former MLSE manager Breagha Carr-Harris was hired by Canada Soccer in May as Head of Women’s Professional Soccer, a position Labbé hopes to strengthen.

Instead of trying to get a team into the already existing National Women’s Soccer League south of the border, Labbé thinks Canada should have their own.

“My biggest focus and ambition is to help coordinate and bring a women’s professional league to Canada. I truly believe this is the best step forward for this country,” she said, saying any new league would be world class, not second class.

“I really believe that with the players we have, the number of players we are playing abroad right now, we can bring them all back. We have some of the best players in the world. Canadian women are among the best players in the world.

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“To create a domestic league and give them opportunities to have the choice to stay at home is not only going to give them that opportunity, it’s going to give every youngster that’s growing up a chance to have a dream, in that league to play. ”

The Whitecaps have been a huge part of the national team and football in this country, with owner Greg Kerfoot footing the bill in many different areas over the years. But on Wednesday, journalist Martin MacMahon reported that the Kerfoot Loyalty Foundation, which had begun providing significant financial support to Canada Soccer – including the U-17 women’s national team ahead of the U-17 Women’s World Cup in India – was stripped of its non-profit status by the Canada Revenue Agency.

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“I can’t say anything about that,” said Schuster. “I think Greg Kerfoot has made a statement and this is a matter between him and CRA and not a Whitecaps matter.”

Kerfoot’s statement to MacMahon on Thursday about the audit, which focused on the years 2016 to 2019, was due to records mismanagement after the foundation’s accountant retired when the foundation failed to meet its payout ratio obligations and/ or interest payments not fully collected on loans.

“The Loyalty Foundation is in the process of transitioning the professional management of its assets to better align with CRA guidelines and the Income Tax Act (Canada),” the statement said.

With the history of the Whitecaps, between Bob Birarda’s sexual assault conviction and the team’s role in it – reports found the organization made crucial mistakes but were cleared of any wrongdoing – as well as the allegations against former women’s coach Hubert Busby Jr. , Labbé was asked how she came to terms with joining the organization.

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“I think the transparency and openness they had during the investigation to provide all the documents and everything they had to do, the attitudes and the steps they took to include Samantha Jean, especially ( as Director of Sports Safety and Education), I think this is a big step for this club,” said Labbé. “And I think you know their confidence in bringing it to someone like me, who they know will challenge things and stand up for the victims and make sure this club does the right thing with what has happened (in the past ), but also forward.”

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  1. Canada's goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé celebrates after saving a penalty kick in the penalty shootout final against Sweden in the women's soccer gold medal match of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Yokohama, Japan.

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  2. Bob Birarda pictured outside his law office last February.

    Whitecaps sexual misconduct investigation ‘rushed’, superficial: Major League Soccer Review

  3. February 8, 2022 - Bob Birarda, former coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada U-20 women's soccer, exits his attorney's office in a vehicle after appearing via video link outside a Vancouver provincial court on Tuesday, February 8, 2022 has appeared.  Birarda has pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and one sexual touching of a youth.

    Canada Soccer mishandled sexual harassment allegations against Bob Birarda: review


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