Vancouver Whitecaps looks to Stephanie Labbé, new GM of women's programs, to renew club's image

The Vancouver Whitecaps have hired Olympic champion goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé in the new position of general manager of women's programs. (CBC - image credit)
The Vancouver Whitecaps have hired Olympic champion goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé in the new position of general manager of women's programs. (CBC - image credit)

The Vancouver Whitecaps are hoping the hiring of former national team goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé will not only improve the club's image but will be a step toward building a women's professional soccer league in Canada.

The 35-year-old recently retired Olympic gold and bronze medalist was introduced on Thursday in the new position of general manager of Whitecaps women's programs.

Labbé took the opportunity to address a damning report on sexual misconduct and abuse in U.S. women's soccer and the National Women's Soccer League released early this week.

"I want to tell any victim, anyone who has ever faced abuse … I am here for you. I am going to be a voice that will stand up for you and continue to fight for you," she said in a voice breaking with emotion.

The Whitecaps has, itself, faced heavy criticism for the handling of two former women's team coaches who were quietly let go after instances of sexual misconduct came to light.

Bob and Dan Lenarduzzi, two executives who were in decision-making positions when the club cut ties with the two men, remain with the Whitecaps.

Labbé said their continued employment did not give her pause when accepting the job.

"I'm excited to be an advocate and a voice for change. I will speak up when I see things that should be changed or should be talked about," she said.

@WhitecapsFC/Twitter
@WhitecapsFC/Twitter

Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster said Labbé's new role should send a signal to fans who abandoned the Whitecaps that a new chapter has begun.

"She is … somebody who should help us to connect back to groups who maybe have been disconnected with the club because they were doubting we were doing things right," he said.

With the Canadian men's team off to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, and the women's team reigning Olympic champions, the profile of soccer has never been higher in the country.

Labbé said although there is no timeline in place to establish a domestic women's league, she agrees there is a sense of urgency to take advantage of the moment.

"Looking back after the 2012 Olympics when the U.S. won gold, I believe it was the next year that they launched the NWSL riding off of that wave," she said.

"I can tell you there are some amazing conversations happening in the background … So I'm going to continue to be in those conversations and push those people to get this done as fast as we possibly can."

The Whitecaps first approached Labbé as she was closing out her professional career with Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

The native of Stony Plain, Alta., made 86 appearances for the national squad, including 81 starts and 44 clean sheets.

She said she will not be relocating to Vancouver from her Calgary home.