A former women’s soccer team captain from Canada is urging the federal government to open a thorough judicial investigation into abuse in sports across the nation.
Andrea Neil said to members of Parliament on Thursday, that nothing can change until we turn the lights on and reckon with where we are.
She spoke during the most recent meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women on the safety of female athletes.
After significant reports of harassment, abuse, and bullying in recent months, athletes from more than a half-dozen sports have called for reform. More than 90 sports academics from Canada and around the world signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau late last month calling for an impartial investigation.
For years, Neil told the committee, she has heard tales of mistreatment, abuse, and corruption in Canadian soccer.
The renowned midfielder was admitted into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012 after making 132 appearances for the national team between 1991 and 2007.
She garnered attention once more in 2019 when she spoke out in defence of a group of athletes who claimed Bob Birarda, a former coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team and Canada’s U-20 women’s team, had bullied, assaulted, and harassed them.
Birarda was sentenced to two years less a day in prison and roughly 16 months of supervised release after entering a guilty plea to three counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual touching involving four players in February of last year.
After Birarda was fired by the national sports association and the Whitecaps in 2008, Neil claimed that Canada Soccer handled the players’ accusations improperly and allowed him to carry on instructing girls.
Neil wants the government to commit to a thorough forensic examination of Canada Soccer’s financial records and publicly explain how and why funds are being used, in addition to a legal investigation.