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Andrea Neil hammers Whitecaps over Ciara McCormack blog post

Canada's Andrea Neil gets her head on the ball vs  Germany in Women's International Soccer during her career. - Arlen Redkop
Canada's Andrea Neil gets her head on the ball vs Germany in Women's International Soccer during her career. - Arlen Redkop - Postmedia News Service

There are few athletes who could match the accolades that follow Andrea Neil’s name like a post-nominal resumé.

• The first woman soccer player inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

• Eighteen years spent on the Canadian national team, including four straight FIFA Women’s World Cups. When she retired from the team, she held the record for most caps (132) in history.

• She’s in the halls of fame for UBC (2009), B.C. (2012) and Canadian Soccer (2012).

• She was a two-time W-League champ as captain of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team. She was also inducted into the club’s ring of honour in 2014.

Note that last part. It’s what made Tuesday’s news so stunning.

The player, coach and legend with an unimpeachable reputation came out with a bold public statement of support for former teammate Ciara McCormack, whose viral blog post in February alleging numerous examples of organizational malfeasance sent shock waves through the B.C. soccer community.

McCormack, a former Whitecaps and national team player, wrote about the experience she and her teammates had on the Caps and national U20 team under an unnamed coach in 2008, one who fostered an environment of bullying, intimidation and inappropriate behaviour. No criminal charges were filed.

In the days after her post, the coach in question was suspended by the youth club he had been working with for the past seven years. He had no comment when reached by Postmedia News.

The decision to come forward was a difficult one for Neil, but she had serious concerns that no progress had been made in ensuring young players had legitimate tools to ensure nothing like what was alleged to have happened in 2008 could happen in the future.

“It’s to speak or not speak. To be or not to be. For Ciara to speak out, and speak what she knows … for many people to have their own experiences or have heard experiences, (and) to remain quiet … are being part of the problem,” she said. “Permissivity and passivity … they’re not qualities that are going to help the situation. So to add support, and certain things that I’m able to speak to, are important, because people did get hurt.

“In our lives, we have to try to act the best we possibly can. When we fall down, be there to put our hands up and take responsibility. Because we all fall down. This isn’t to say I’m better, just we all need to do better. All we can do is wake up each day and try to be decent.”

The team opened an inquiry into the alleged incident in 2008, hiring a lawyer to conduct a probe as an independent ombudsman. Neil was one of those contacted during the process, but had serious concerns about how it was conducted — and with its outcome.

Both the Canadian Soccer Association and Whitecaps parted ways — mutually, according to both organizations — with the coach in the wake of the inquiry.

But Neil said that few, if any, players central to the investigation were spoken to, nor were the parents of the players — some of whom were under 18 — contacted by the team nor the CSA. And despite the apparent shallow depth of the inquiry, Neil said the ombudsman recommended the coach step away from coaching because “she felt that he could not manage what she called the power imbalance between his role as a coach and his relationship with the players,” Neil said in Tuesday’s statement.

“People can choose to argue the details we concern ourselves with when we want to ignore the truth,” the statement reads. “But that won’t change the truth, which is this: What happened in 2008 was not right. People got emotionally hurt, and all of us have a responsibility to do something about that. Blame and responsibility are not the same thing.”

Like Neil, McCormack’s motivations have long moved past assigning blame. Her desire is to spur change in a flawed system, to fix the cracks that have allowed problems to filter through and sow havoc in youth sports. McCormack said the current climate, like the CBC’s recent series exposing coaching abuse, was a big part of why she wrote her blog post last month, one that hit 20,000 views in a matter of days.

“I know nothing’s changed in the structure, and I know all of them are vulnerable to things the way the structure is. I just felt that if I didn’t speak up and say something, then nobody would. I felt it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” she said. “This is not about one person at all. It’s about the massive systemic problems we have and there are no laws protecting these athletes. It’s all just talk, it’s all just codes of conduct, there’s no accountability, there’s no follow up.

“I can unequivocally say that I don’t think athletes are safe in Canada in sport the way that things are currently, and that’s been proven across both genders, all sports. It’s time we start taking steps to make sport a safe place to be.”

By J.J. Adams

jadams@postmedia.com

twitter.com/TheRealJJAdams

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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