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Major League Soccer said Friday it will hire independent counsel to oversee an investigation into the Vancouver Whitecaps' handling of the misconduct allegations against former coach Hubert Busby Jr.
It comes after a former player went public with claims of sexual impropriety against him last week.
Malloree Enoch told the British publication the Guardian she was coerced and sexually assaulted by Hubert Busby Jr. a decade ago, when Busby was recruiting her for the team.
"I think [Whitecaps] leadership needs to change," said Enoch, speaking to CBC. She says the soccer club needs to be held accountable for not protecting players.
"We can't support these types of behaviours. We can't pretend that they didn't happen. And we can't tell people that they need to be quiet and it's inappropriate to speak about it."
Busby Jr. denied all of Enoch's claims to the Guardian. The Whitecaps have not responded to CBC interview requests.
MLS said the investigation into the club would include "a review of internal processes and overall culture" at the time of the alleged incidents.
"The league and club will publicly release the findings and recommendations of the investigation," a league spokesperson said.
In a statement on Friday, Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster apologized for how the club handled the situation.
"The club's leadership was made aware of allegations against Busby at the end of the 2011 season and promptly secured the services of an independent ombudsperson to oversee an investigation into the matter," he said. "We have since learned that the investigation did not reveal certain allegations that were disclosed this week."
Schuster says any members of the executive leadership involved with the incident have been put on administrative leave, and the club is "committed" to co-operating with the league's review.
'No clear policy on appropriate conduct of the coaches'
Busby Jr. was the Whitecaps women's head coach for two seasons before being quietly let go in Oct. 2011. At the time of his departure, players were asked not to speak publicly about it by club executive Dan Lenarduzzi.
Busby Jr. moved to another job coaching women at the Seattle Sounders. He is currently the head coach of the Jamaican national women's team.
Enoch shared details of Busby's behaviour with Whitecaps executives and club owner Greg Kerfoot in an email dated Aug. 10, 2011.
"I am disturbed, she wrote, not only by what has happened to me, but also because in talking to players that have been on the team before, I have come to find out that this has happened with a previous coach, Bob Birarda, and am surprised that there is no clear policy on appropriate conduct of the coaches in regards to players."
Birarda is the former Whitecaps women's coach and Canada Soccer national women's team coach who was quietly dismissed by both organizations in 2008 after players complained of inappropriate behaviour, only to be hired a few months later to coach a girls team in the Vancouver area.
Birarda continued coaching female youth soccer until 2019 when former Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack published a blog with additional allegations.
He was arrested and charged in December 2020 with nine sexual offences related to alleged incidents between 1988 and 2008 involving four former players. Birarda has not entered a plea and the allegations have not been tested in court.
'Completely disregard athlete safety'
Eden Hingwing is one of a dozen former players who has spoken out in recent years about the past incidents.
A Whitecaps and Canada under-20 national team player from 2006 to 2008, Hingwing says Whitecaps leadership has shown a troubling pattern of putting the club first and player safety last.
"In 2008, it was Birarda. In 2011, it was Busby Jr.
In 2017, a boy from the Whitecaps youth program was sexually assaulted. Two of these three incidents resulted in criminal charges," she said. "They internally handled the issues to protect the club but completely disregarded athlete safety."
Hingwing believes "bad eggs" will alway exist in coaching, but says it's up to those in power to stop them from doing harm.
"To prevent them from having a 30-year trail of victims ... executives and people at the top of sport organizations have to put the safety of athletes as a priority," she said.
Enoch said she had to overcome fear, anger and resentment to tell her story, but ultimately felt it would be worth it, if people listened.
"We're talking about a couple of decades of the same crap with the same leadership,'' said Enoch. "It's got to change."