A former member of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ women’s team, who blew the whistle in 2019 on Bob Birarda’s return to coaching, told a House of Commons committee Thursday that two prominent Canadian soccer executives should not be involved when Canada co-hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2026.
Ciara McCormack testified to the all-party Status of Women committee’s hearing on women and girls in sport that there needs to be a judicial inquiry into the Canadian sport system, including a full investigation of the finances and operations of the Canadian Soccer Association.
“There's a lot of taxpayer money going into FIFA 2026 and there was so much harm done in our situation that hasn't been remedied in any capacity,” McCormack testified.
Former women’s national under-20 head coach and Olympic team assistant coach Birarda pleaded guilty last February to sexually assaulting four players between 1988 and 2008. In November, he was sentenced to 16 months in jail.
McCormack said the roles of former CSA president Victor Montagliani and general secretary Peter Montopoli are particularly problematic, because they were both in power when Birarda was employed in 2008. Montagliani is now a vice-president of FIFA and Montopoli the chief operating officer for the 2026 World Cup matches in Vancouver and Toronto.
“People like this have no place in sport and we need mechanisms to remove them,” McCormack told the committee. “Because what kind of message does it send to reward leaders of taxpayer-funded sport whilst simultaneously covering up child abuse?”
Last July’s report by University of Western Ontario sport law professor Richard McLaren found that instead of acknowledging Birarda’s abuse and firing him in 2008, “Canada Soccer misled players and obfuscated the true reason for his departure: his continued harassment of players and abuse of the power imbalance between Birarda and players on the team. Moreover, the CSA’s failure to terminate Birarda and impose disciplinary sanctions afforded him the opportunity to continue coaching, putting other players at potential risk.”
McCormack’s appearance at the committee came three hours after Canada’s men’s team lost its third and final match at Qatar 2022. Canada, U.S. and Mexico have already qualified as co-hosts to 2026’s 48-nation, 80-match tournament.
But the number of matches could be increased if some in FIFA have their way.
U.S. is already committed to hosting 60 matches, with 10 for Canada and 10 for Mexico. But, the Guardian reported that there have been informal talks behind the scenes in Qatar about changing the opening round format from 16 groups of three nations to 12 groups of four nations. That would result in 24 additional first round matches.
More first round matches could benefit both Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium and Toronto’s BMO Field, which fall below FIFA’s 60,000 minimum capacity to host a match in the quarter-finals and beyond. But there would be additional costs. City of Toronto is already expecting to spend $290 million, while the B.C. said it could cost up to $260 million. That doesn’t count the federal contribution for security and other costs.
“We have not received any information from FIFA regarding the possible expansion of the 2026 World Cup,” said Corinna Fillion of the B.C. Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport communications office. “At this time, we do not yet know how many matches will be held in each city.”
There is a lot that the public does not know about the 2026 tournament. In response to a freedom of information request for B.C.’s hosting proposal to FIFA, B.C. Pavilion Corporation withheld almost all 117 pages. The taxpayer-owned stadium operator cited exceptions to the public records law that protect policy advice or recommendations, intergovernmental relations or negotiations, financial or economic interests of a public body, and business interests of a third party.
The only information visible includes Ministry and PavCo letterhead, PavCo CEO Ken Cretney’s signature, the words “table of contents” and “introduction,” and nine pages with “Vancouver Questionnaire” at the top.
PavCo budgeted $30,000 to send three employees to Qatar for FIFA’s Qatar 2022 observer programs, while Vancouver city hall budgeted $25,000 to send one Sport Hosting Vancouver employee and two Vancouver Police officers.
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim went to Qatar to watch the World Cup on a personal vacation booked before he won the mayoralty. City hall has refused to release his daily calendar for now, citing a section of the law that allows it to delay by up to 60 business days the release of information that it intends to publish.