Fans protest Whitecaps handling of alleged abuse by walking out mid-game

(Jonathan Hayward/CP)

VANCOUVER — Hundreds of Vancouver Whitecaps fans walked out mid-game on Wednesday to protest the club’s handling of abuse and harassment allegations levied against a former coach.

The Vancouver Southsiders and Curva Collective supporters group organized the walkout near the end of the first half, saying in a statement that they are dissatisfied with the Whitecaps’ executives "silence and lack of accountability in the scandal."

Vancouver ended up beating Los Angeles FC 1-0 for its first win of the MLS season.

More than a dozen women who played for the Whitecaps and were part of Canada’s U-20 talent pool around 2008 have come forward to say a former coach for both squads acted inappropriately with members of the team.

They allege the male coach rubbed a player’s thigh, sent players sexual text messages, made lewd comments and bullied young women who ignored or spoke out against his behaviour.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The Whitecaps and Canada Soccer previously issued separate statements saying that concerns about behaviour within their programs in 2008 were investigated and after the investigation was complete, the organizations parted ways with the coach.

The Whitecaps have also said the club recently contacted police in Vancouver to see if further action is required.

The supporters groups said in their statement that the protest is to express support and solidarity with the women who have come forward.

They say the Whitecaps executives "have not acted properly in their duty of care" when it comes to young athletes.

"This is not a protest aimed at our players, nor the technical staff, nor the many earnest and hardworking employees of the Whitecaps," the statement says.

"Our dissatisfaction is aimed squarely at the executives who were in charge of the club in 2008 through to the present day. Their silence and lack of accountability in this scandal, as well as the urgent need for better protection for young athletes in all sports compels us to act."

The Whitecaps issued a letter to fans earlier on Wednesday saying the club’s top priority is the well-being of its athletes and staff, and that everyone involved in the organization is expected to comply with respectful workplace policies.

The letter says the Whitecaps are initiating a third-party review and assessment of those workplace policies.

"As a club, we know that the trust of our players, staff, supporters and partners is fundamental to our commitment to the community and to growing our sport," the letter says. "We take very seriously our duty to set an example by acting in ways that our community can be proud."

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