The Canadian women’s national soccer team is calling on Canada Soccer, the governing body of the sport in this country, to help fight what it says is a culture of abuse and silence.
The team, which is facing the Football Ferns of New Zealand Saturday in Ottawa in the first match of the Celebration Tour marking its gold-medal win at the Tokyo Olympics, sent a letter and list of demands to several senior officials at Canada Soccer on Friday night.
In a call for support, the team’s letter references the recent allegations of sexual coercion and maltreatment that have rocked the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) and the case of Bob Birarda, the former Vancouver Whitecaps and U20 national women's team coach who is facing nine sex-related charges in British Columbia.
“With everything that has happened as of late with the NWSL we have recognized the power of the collective and how important it is to stand against a culture of abuse and silence,” the letter reads.
“The Canadian Soccer Association released a statement in regards to what was happening in the NWSL and that it has no place in sport, and we agree. But to move forward in our country we believe several things need to be done so we, once again, can be leaders and role models to all Canadians. This type of abusive behaviour is still happening, right now, in many [National Sport Organizations] across the country."
The letter made three specific demands for commitment, accountability and ensuring safe sport:
“We call on Canada Soccer, its board of directors, its executives, and its coaching staff to commit publicly and unequivocally to Canada’s soccer community to build a safe environment for our athletes. We also call on Canada Soccer to apologize to those who have been victimized and abused while playing the sport they love.
“We call on Canada Soccer to initiate a transparent, independent investigation of the allegations against Bob Birarda during the time when he was employed by the organization to understand fully what occurred and to develop recommendations and best practices to better protect our athletes.
“We call on the Canadian government to protect Canada’s vulnerable athletes by making the Independent Safe Sport Mechanism mandatory for all National Sport Organizations by the end of 2021.”
Shortly before kickoff on Saturday afternoon, Canada Soccer agreed to the conditions.
The letter also said that Canada and New Zealand would hold a minute of silence at the start of Saturday’s match to “show our solidarity with the victims in our sport, but also all sports, acknowledging the abuse that has happened and that we demand the silence and abuse ends now.”
Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who has been with the national program since 2002, spoke with TSN on Friday and confirmed that both the letter and the minute of silence were voted on by the players.
“We are just literally asking for acknowledgement,” she said. “I know this is a victory tour, and I also know how important that is, but we had a vote yesterday about the minute of silence and the demands and it was unanimous. One hundred per cent of the team recognizes that this is way more important. We have the opportunity for significant change.”