Vancouver Whitecaps will do 'whatever is necessary' to address club's response to misconduct claims: CEO

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Axel Schuster, CEO of the Vancouver Whitecaps, talks to CBC News on Oct. 31. (CBC - image credit)
Axel Schuster, CEO of the Vancouver Whitecaps, talks to CBC News on Oct. 31. (CBC - image credit)

The head of the Vancouver Whitecaps says the soccer club is "willing to do whatever is necessary" to address its alleged handling of misconduct concerns against a former women's coach.

CEO Axel Schuster said Sunday he fully supports an investigation from Major League Soccer (MLS), saying he hopes to learn "what kind of mistakes happened" after allegations first arose more than a decade ago.

"I can only say there are a lot of concerning things that happened around the club that really have to be looked into," Schuster said in an interview with CBC News.

"The club is willing to do whatever is necessary at the end of that to clean it up."

The interview comes days after the MLS announced it will hire independent counsel to oversee an investigation into the Whitecaps' response to misconduct allegations against former women's coach Hubert Busby, Jr., who is currently coach of the Jamaican women's national team.

U.S. player Malloree Enoch detailed allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Busby, including sexual coercion, between 2010 and 2011 in an interview with the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper on Thursday.

Enoch shared her concerns with team owner Gerg Kerfoot and club executives in an April 2011 email, but no action was immediately taken.

Enoch said it culminated in a group of players bringing their concerns about Busby and their overall treatment as players to management.

After the club hired an ombudsperson look into player complaints, Busby, Jr.'s contract was not renewed. An email sent to players by Dan Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps director of development, asked players not to speak of the situation with Busby, Jr. publicly.

"We were silenced, told not to speak about it and act like life is normal and move on," Enoch told CBC News.

After leaving Vancouver, Busby Jr. was hired to coach the Seattle Sounders women's team. He was appointed head coach of Jamaica's women's team in January 2020 after previously serving as an assistant coach.

CBC News was unable to reach Busby for comment. In an interview with the Guardian, he denied all allegations.

Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Schuster was not with the Whitecaps at the time of Busby's alleged misconduct and said the first time he ever heard the coach's name mentioned was 10 days ago when the Guardian asked for comment on Enoch's allegations.

"I want to handle [the investigation] in the best possible way to really find out what was going on ... what kind of mistakes happened," said Schuster, who was hired as Whitecaps sporting director in November 2019 and then elevated to CEO in June 2020.

Previous accusations of cover-up

Busby is the second former Whitecaps women's coach to be accused of sexual misconduct.

Former Whitecaps player Ciara McCormack came forward in 2019, detailing alleged abuse by former coach Bob Birarda. Others later came forward with similar accusations.

Birarda was arrested and charged last year with nine sexual offences related to incidents between 1988 and 2008.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

McCormack has been pushing for accountability from the Whitecaps as women's soccer faces a wider reckoning about abuse and harassment.

"There's been such harm caused by the organization to so many people who are still coping and dealing with ... not only what they experienced as athletes, but in the aftermath in the decades since then in trying to bring this to light," McCormack told CBC News.

Members of the Whitecaps executive team involved in the investigation have been put on administrative leave. The club said it can't name exactly which leaders are on leave while the investigation is ongoing.

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