Major League Soccer has released the findings of an independent investigation into the Vancouver Whitecaps organization’s handling of allegations of misconduct brought by members of the Whitecaps’ women’s team against former coach Bob Birarda in 2008 and former coach Hubert Busby, Jr. in 2011. MLS engaged Janice Rubin of Rubin Thomlinson LLP, one of Canada’s foremost experts in workplace investigations, to conduct the investigation.
The independent review found that the Whitecaps’ response to the allegations was appropriate and that the club acted expeditiously to hire an experienced workplace investigator, relied on the investigator’s judgment, and adhered to all of the investigator’s recommendations. While the report notes that the club could have initially done more to support the players following the 2008 investigation, the investigators found that the Whitecaps adopted a more player-centered response to the 2011 allegations and have since strengthened their policies and practices. The report did express concerns about the external investigations conducted at the time, but did not attribute those concerns to the Whitecaps, who relied on the external investigator’s expertise. The investigation also found that there was no evidence that the club attempted to dismiss or cover up the 2008 and 2011 allegations, but rather took it seriously and actively ensured that the allegations were addressed.
The report also evaluates the Whitecaps current policies and procedures and found that the Whitecaps have strong measures in place to ensure a safe environment, in the form of well-developed policies and procedures, robust training, vetting practices for coaches and confidential reporting lines. Nonetheless, the investigators offer several recommendations for how the MLS’ league office and Whitecaps organization can continue to enhance and strengthen their efforts to create safe work environments moving forward. While many of those enhancements are already underway, the league and club have committed to adopting and implementing all of these recommendations immediately.
MLS remains firmly committed to ensuring the league and its clubs provide players and staff with a safe environment, free of all forms of harassment and fear of retaliation. MLS thanks Janice Rubin and the entire Rubin Thomlinson LLP team for their work on this investigation, as well as members of the Whitecaps organization for their participation and cooperation throughout this process.
Statement from Vancouver Whitecaps FC CEO Axel Schuster
We commend the brave women who have spoken up and been fierce advocates for change both publicly and behind closed doors. We look forward to working hand in hand with our players and the soccer community to move the club forward and ensure respect and dignity are embedded into the DNA of our organization.
We have supported this investigation from the outset and are driven by our commitment to fostering a culture of zero tolerance for any form of harassment or bullying. While Rubin Thomlinson’s report found that our organization took the allegations seriously and acted on the expert advice of an external investigator, it’s clear that we could have done better, especially in how we supported and communicated with our players. To the women who were affected, our staff, players, and community, we are truly sorry.
There is no place in our organization for any form of sexual harassment or misconduct. Players are the heart and soul of our organization, and everyone should be able to pursue their passion for sport in an environment that is safe, respectful, and nurturing.
That’s why we’ve committed ourselves to becoming leaders in Safe Sport and have continued to improve our policies and practices. Our director of sport safety & education has guided our Safe Sport commitment, which is anchored by five key pillars:
1. Policies & Procedures: A comprehensive policy and procedures that are clear, easy to understand and reviewed annually for effectiveness.
2. Prevention: Processes for coach and staff recruitment that have multiple screening tools including reference checks, vulnerable sector background checks, interviews, and orientation.
3. Training & Education: Mandatory Safe Sport training for all coaches and staff members working with minor players. Players receive ongoing program specific and age-appropriate Safe Sport education.
4. Reporting & Response: Comprehensive support resources including access to medical and psychosocial professionals, as well as clear, independent reporting mechanisms for complaints, and a fair and transparent resolution process.
5. Continuous Development: Proactive and ongoing evolution of our safe sport practices that is informed by our independent safe sport advisory board and feedback from players, parents of players, and staff members.
Rubin Thomlinson has made additional recommendations to further strengthen our policies, and we will implement all of them.