‘They are protecting the club not girls’: More abuse claims hit North American soccer

Exclusive: A former player has told the Guardian that an international head coach attempted to solicit sex from her while with the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team

The head coach of the Jamaica women’s national team has been accused by a former player of attempting to solicit sex from her during a recruiting process when he was in charge of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team.

The latest allegations against a prominent figure in North American women’s soccer come at a time when players around the world have spoken out about a culture of abuse and inappropriate behavior in the sport.

The detailed claims against Hubert Busby Jr date to his time as head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team in 2010 and 2011 and include alleged sexual advances toward a player he was attempting to recruit. Busby denies the allegations. The Whitecaps also operate a men’s team in Major League Soccer and are considered a soccer powerhouse in Canada.

The allegations center on the recruitment of Malloree Enoch. She told the Guardian she initially contacted Busby in September 2010 seeking an administrative job with the Whitecaps women’s team. Enoch says Busby suggested she could play for the Whitecaps rather than work in team management.

That invitation triggered a series of incidents during a recruitment process that, according to Enoch, saw the coach give her Adidas sports equipment as gifts, fly her across the country on multiple occasions to attend events with him, take her to restaurants for meals in one-on-one situations, and ask her to stay with him alone in his hotel room while working in his role as the Whitecaps’ coach.

According to Enoch, Busby first invited her to spend the night in a hotel room after a dinner in her hometown of Tampa, Florida, in November 2010 which she thought would be attended by several Whitecaps staff. Only Busby was present.

“When he said to stay the night I was like, er, probably not,” Enoch said. “The way he spun it was, ‘You have been drinking. I don’t think you should drive home.’ … It felt like it was a proposition.”

The following month, Enoch was flown to Los Angeles believing she would take part in a trial game for the Whitecaps. Enoch recalls that Busby said the game would secure her place on the squad and she would meet her future teammates.

“He picked me up [at the airport] and brought me to the hotel and there was also supposed to be another coach, but no one else showed up,” Enoch says. “He took me in the elevator up to my room and he was following me like he was going to show me the room. When we opened the door all his stuff was in there. He said the club messed up and they would figure it out when we got back [from a restaurant]. When we got back he went straight to the elevator to go up and I stopped in the lobby. He said that he had called the club and there was nothing they could do about it.”

Not only was there no room for Enoch, there were no teammates, and no game. Jennifer Stoltenberg, who was also recruited by Busby to play with the Whitecaps that season, had been invited to play in the proposed trial game but was told four days before the match that it had been canceled. Asked if it was normal for a coach to invite a player to share a room during a recruiting process, Stoltenberg said: “No.”

Enoch ended up sharing the room with Busby for three nights. She says he made no sexual advances towards her during this time.

“It put me in a weird situation,” says Enoch. “I didn’t have the financials to get myself out of the situation. My parents would have wanted me to call them but there was no way I could call them to tell them I had got myself into this situation and put them under that stress. I spent most of the time waiting in the hotel room. He did his own thing during the day and he drove me around and took me to get something to eat.”

Enoch says Busby continued to take an interest in her. In January 2011, Enoch says Busby arranged for her to fly to a coaches’ convention in Baltimore. Enoch says Busby told her that she would sign for Whitecaps at the convention.

At least two other Whitecaps players attended the convention but Enoch was never introduced to them. On this occasion, Enoch says, Busby booked a room she did not have to share. However, the contract signing never took place and she returned home to Tampa.

On a weekend in February 2011, in a room at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Enoch’s recruitment process took a twist. In an email written to Vancouver Whitecaps executive Dan Lenarduzzi on 10 August 2011, Enoch detailed some of the incidents alleged to have taken place that weekend.

Enoch told Lenarduzzi that Busby asked her to pick him up from the airport in Tampa and drive him to watch a tournament in Orlando. She had hoped to play for her college team the following day in another tournament but was unable to participate because she had not traveled with the team.

Enoch wrote to Lenarduzzi: “Yet Hubert insisted on going to the tournament to watch my team play. I had to sit on the sidelines because I was not able to travel with the team since I ‘had’ to pick Hubert up at the airport and drive him. This was very unfair to put me in a position like that, and I was rather embarrassed to not be able to dress for the tournament.”

Enoch also alleged to the Guardian that further improper conduct occurred that weekend.

“He insisted that I go to the game he was going to scout in Orlando,” Enoch says. “Time passes and then [Busby says] ‘You must stay because it is so late and the drive is unsafe. I couldn’t afford a room and he wasn’t going to pay for it.”

Asked if Busby made it clear that the only option was for her to stay in his room, Enoch replied: “Yes.”

“It was messed up the first time I stayed in his room in Los Angeles but I had my own bed and he had his own bed and as awkward as it was it obviously could have been worse,” she says.

“The second one in Baltimore, we did it right. I didn’t expect any [sexual] advances in Orlando even though the one-on-one time was awkward. I didn’t feel like that was going to happen.”

In notes taken by Enoch in 2011, which have been seen by the Guardian, the player wrote: “He insisted I stay because now it was late and when I agreed it was far too late to drive back. When we got back to the hotel he again didn’t have a room reserved for me. I had to stay in his room. This particular night there were two beds and I laid in my own bed and he made his way to my bed and at some point was standing over the top of me.”

She told the Guardian that the situation developed from there. “He was on all fours fully on the bed. He was definitely aroused. He tried to kiss and touch me. The light was not on but I don’t think he had his shirt on. I had to negotiate to get him off the bed. I told him I wasn’t interested.”

She added: “I think there was a lot of emotion. I was definitely scared. I had this dream to be a soccer player and I was trying to pursue something I had wanted to do since I was five and now I was put in a really shitty position. He was using this power because he had something that I wanted.

“I was very uncomfortable. I was resistant to it and he tried to pursue it and pursue it and then he got pissed off and went over to his own bed and went to sleep.”

Enoch says she didn’t tell the club of the alleged misconduct at the time because: “I was embarrassed and didn’t want to compromise being able to play. Of course the right thing to say is no. I know to say no but at the same time I know that with his power he can take away any opportunity I could have whether it was for a job or to play. It would be the end game if I pissed him off or didn’t do something.

“What made me feel safe was that he had the backing of such a renowned club and I was protected.”

However, what Enoch would soon learn was that the club’s record of appropriately dealing with abuse by coaches was poor. After abuse allegations from players in 2009, coach Bob Birarda left the Whitecaps by “mutual agreement” but was back coaching teenage girls in the Vancouver area within months. Birada was last year arrested in Vancouver charged with six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault, and one count of child luring over a 20-year period between 1988 and 2008. The charges against Birarda are understood to involve at least three former soccer players. He is currently out on bail and has yet to enter a plea.

Enoch eventually signed for the Whitecaps. While a teammate recalled Busby appearing to give more attention to Enoch than other players during the 2011 season, Enoch says the coach paid little attention to her when she arrived in Vancouver. “The day he dropped me off at the [team] house he ignored me,” Enoch says. “He was someone who just picked me up at the airport and dropped me off.”

At the end of the 2011 season, Whitecaps players sent an email to club officials detailing a list of complaints concerning inappropriate behavior by Busby and his coaching staff. The email to Whitecaps management reported the Enoch incident in Los Angeles and the allegations also included coaching staff partying until 3am during a road trip and asking players to participate, and Busby becoming involved in a heated confrontation with a member of the public at a team hotel. Players also had other issues with how the team was managed that year, such as the club not providing adequate health insurance cover for international players. The club responded by sending a postseason survey to the players.

In August 2011, Enoch sent her own email to Whitecaps management saying that it was “important that the club is notified of the incidents that took place with Hubert Busby and I. I know that in the past there has been history with inappropriate coach/player relationships. I want the club to be aware that it is happening once again and something needs to be done this time. My biggest concern is, this will be swept under the carpet.”

The Whitecaps responded to the written complaints by Enoch and the team by hiring an ombudsman to interview the players. Following the interviews, Lenarduzzi sent all players on the women’s team an email on 6 October 2011, which stated that following “an analysis of the 2011 season and the women’s program as a whole… it was in the club’s best interest to make a change in coaching staff for our women’s team program.” In the email, Lenarduzzi also told the players that “it is not appropriate to comment publicly on this matter – this includes social media. Thank you in advance for your professionalism and cooperation.”

Kelsey Hood, the Whitecaps team captain in 2011, was among the players who wrote to club management detailing their experiences over the season. Hood recalls being “disappointed but not surprised” by how the Whitecaps dealt with their complaints.

“For them to part ways like that wasn’t good enough,” she says. “They are protecting the name and the club instead of protecting the girls and the players.

“I found out [Busby] got a head coaching job at another club while the people who stood up for Mal [Enoch] were pushed aside. I learned afterward that there were situations like this at the Whitecaps that had happened before. They parted ways with that coach [Birarda] but he ended up coaching girls. That blows my mind. In my career and in my experience there has been a lot of inappropriate behavior that has been found out and there have been no consequences for it.”

When the Guardian spoke to Busby this month, he denied all of Enoch’s allegations. He also denies his contract was not renewed for any inappropriate behavior. “It was more about where they wanted the program to head to at that particular time and where I thought the program was at as well,” Busby says. “I was offered a contract renewal and we obviously couldn’t come to terms. When I went to discuss the contract renewal we decided to go in another direction.” Asked by the Guardian if he was told his contract would not be renewed by the Whitecaps because of allegations by players received by the club, Busby replied: “No.”

Busby was subsequently hired by Western New York Flash before a six-year stint with the Seattle Sounders women’s team where he was both coach and general manager. He joined the Jamaica women’s national team staff for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. He was appointed head coach of Jamaica’s women’s team in 2020.

Today, Enoch has a message for all women facing misuse of power - not just in sport but in everyday life.

“From my experience in coaching young girls, they have dreams and aspirations to be professional soccer players, just as I did.” Enoch says. “When they express their desire to play beyond college, I think to myself that they should probably have a back-up plan. One reason is because if they actually get the opportunity that millions of other little girls want, I can’t guarantee to them that it is going to be a fantastic experience if history continues to repeat itself.

“It’s OK to say no. When you are younger you don’t have the wherewithal to understand or know that there will be other opportunities. But you can wait for the next chance.”

  • The Vancouver Whitecaps did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.


Contributor

Matthew Hall

The GuardianTramp

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