As noted by IICSA in its final report many organisations have in the past put the reputation of the organisation above the safeguarding of children, and in many cases individuals accused of abuse have moved on quietly without the real reasons for their departure being made clear. This has happened across sectors and jurisdictions and an example of what can happen can be seen in connection with soccer in Canada.

In early 2022, former national team coach Bob Birarda pleaded guilty in a Vancouver court to three counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual touching that occurred during his coaching career. He was subsequently sentenced to 16 months in jail and eight months under conditions including house arrest.

In 2008, complaints were made by members of the Canadian women’s U-20 team and Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team about Birarda’s behavior. This led to an internal investigation which found that he had sent unwelcome sexualised texts with sexual overtones to some of his players. Despite that, his departure from Canada Soccer was described as a ‘mutual’ parting of ways and he continued to coach girls and young women for another decade.

Current Fifa officials, Victor Montagliani and Peter Montopoli, were Canada Soccer officials at the time and have been accused of putting their own self-interest and reputation of the organisation over the safety of players by failing to tell players and the public the real reason why Birarda had left Canada Soccer in 2008.

A 125-page investigation by legal firm McLaren Global Sports Solutions published in July 2022 (at the request of Canada Soccer) concluded that Canada Soccer did not follow its own policies about harassment and abuse when Birarda’s behaviour became known.

According to the report Victor Montopoli failed as recently as 2021 to accurately describe to Fifa’s Ethics Committee how Canada Soccer handled Birarda’s exit. The report found that “Canada Soccer misled players and obfuscated the true reason for his departure’’. They also failed to impose any disciplinary sanctions on him and allowed him to continue coaching.

Montagliani informed players that Birarda was leaving shortly before the 2008 under 20 women’s World Cup. He reportedly gave scripted remarks which intimated that Birarda’s departure was due to health issues. Montagliani confirmed that he did not disclose the true reasons for Birarda’s exit as he had been led by legal counsel.

The report recommended Canada Soccer be “willing to understand and grasp the severity of the trauma that the 2008 players experienced at the hands of Birarda” and that “Canada Soccer needs to commit to reconciling the past if it wants to move forward positively”.

Former Canadian international player Andrea Neil said that Canada Soccer should apologise for how it handled allegations of abuse by Birarda. They had systems in place at the time but did not follow them which was a failure of leadership. Neil hoped that organisations like Fifa and Canada Soccer would demonstrate strong leadership and accountability but is pessimistic of meaningful change as there is still a lack of accountability.

Canada Soccer declined to comment but have hired a consultancy, ITP Sport, to improve its approach to athlete protection. ITP Sport, said accountability for any former Canada Soccer executives was dependent on whose jurisdiction they now fall under. If they had remained under the jurisdiction of Canada Sport then action ought to have been taken.

Fifa defended Montagliani and Montopoli. They commented that the report concluded that Canada Soccer acted in good faith and that there was no evidence of a cover up.

The reputation of Fifa has been tarnished in recent years due to allegations of bribery and money-laundering. This culminated in the scandal of 2015 when Fifa president Sepp Blatter was banned from all football-related activities by Fifa's ethics committee for eight years. Numerous other Fifa officials and associated have been banned and indicted for corruption. 

There have also been allegations that player welfare is low on the Fifa priority list. It is notable that they fined Nicklas Bendtner EUR 100,000 for displaying a none Fifa approved sponsor on his kit. By contrast Montenegro were fined EUR 20,000 in 2019 after their fans racially abused several England players. The lack of action by Fifa in respect of Victor Montagliani and Peter Montopoli is arguably another example of their lack of regard for player welfare.