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Whitecaps protest over abuse allegations earns audience with ownership

 Vancouver Whitecaps fans gather on the stadium concourse after leaving their seats during an in-game walkout on April 27. The protests will continue after a meeting with ownership failed to bring any resolution to the crisis.
Vancouver Whitecaps fans gather on the B.C. Place Stadium concourse after leaving their seats during an in-game walkout protest to show support for members of the 2008 women's Caps and U20 Canadian teams who have alleged abuse by a former coach who ran both clubs, as the Whitecaps play the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS match in Vancouver on April 27. - Postmedia

Members of the Vancouver Whitecaps' supporters groups got a chance to question minority owner Jeff Mallett over the way his team has handled abuse allegations from a group of women from the 2008 women's Caps team.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease — or at least an ear, in the case of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ supporters groups.

Representatives of the Vancouver Southsiders and the Curva Collective met with the MLS club’s executives and ownership in a closed-door meeting at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday, just before the Caps’ game against the Philadelphia Union.

The fan groups had been protesting the team’s handling of a series of allegations of abuse and coach misconduct levied by members of the 2008 women’s Whitecaps and U20 Canadian teams, who were coached by the same person. There are now 15 women who have either come out publicly or put their name to a group statement that accused the coach of inappropriate touching, sexually charged texting and bullying.

The team and the Canadian Soccer Association conducted an inquiry into the allegations at the time, and “mutually parted ways” with the coach in question, although he continued to coach underage girls’ teams.

On April 17, the supporters groups walked out of a game against LAFC in the 35th minute in a public declaration of support for the women. They did the same Saturday, despite the meeting with COO Rachel Lewis, president Bob Lenarduzzi, vice-president of soccer operations Greg Anderson, manager of fan relations Josh Nanavaty, communications director Tom Plasteras and, most notably, minority owner Jeff Mallett. Majority owner Greg Kerfoot didn’t attend, but Mallett’s appearance was the first time ownership has addressed the issues.

The Caps had requested that the matters discussed in the meeting remain private, and the clubs have declined to speak publicly until the information can be disseminated among their members. Discussions with some of those members paint the picture of a meeting that ranged from productive to testy.

The Whitecaps had requested that the 35th-minute walkout be cancelled, or to have ownership join the supporters in their section in the south end of B.C. Place, and said they were working on the situation involving the women’s teams behind the scenes, but weren’t ready to go public with their efforts.

The supporters’ groups felt there needed to be progress made publicly by the team before any protests were cancelled, and had also requested, among other things, that the ombudsmen’s report from the inquiry into the allegations in 2008 be released to the players.

While no concrete progress was made, and no schedule of any potential positive actions by the Whitecaps was released, it did open up a line of dialogue that had previously been muted. Neither the team nor the CSA have commented publicly on the allegations since a viral blog post by former player Ciara McCormack triggered an avalanche of women to come forward.

The tensions between the club and its fans was heightened further when it came to light this week that the Caps had hired a coach in 2013 who was under investigation, then later suspended and fined, for racist actions toward his players at his former club , Notts County in England.

Brett Adams, head of the Whitecaps’ academy in the Kootenays, was fined and suspended by the English Football Association after allegedly throwing a banana at a black player on his club’s youth team — with “f— off” written on it — and told him to “f— off and eat it.”

The Whitecaps don’t play again at B.C. Place until May 10, when the Portland Timbers come to town. The supporters have said there will be another walkout, and possibly more demonstrative protests, unless the team acts publicly on some of the things discussed in the meeting.

jadams@postmedia.com

twitter.com/TheRealJJAdams

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