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Racist tirade galvanizes B.C. soccer camp

Tri-City coach racial slurs
Robert Birungi gives instruction to children learning to play soccer at Victoria Park in Coquitlam. Recently, he was subjected to a racist tirade and now the Coquitlam community is mounting a campaign to support him. (via Glacier Media)

A group of hardy youngsters took part in soccer drills Wednesday as parents watched.

But in recent weeks, the Coquitlam soccer clinic, led by Uganda native Robert Birungi, has been under a cloud after a man driving an older truck yelled racist slurs at the coach and continued his campaign of intimidation over the weeks, driving on to the sidewalk or hanging out near the field.

“It was disturbing and scary,” said Birungi’s wife, Carli Travers, whose anxiety was heightened by the fact that her sons were also on the soccer field at the time.

The couple, who live in Port Coquitlam and run a charity to support school fees for 350 students in Uganda as well as a childcare centre and housing for orphans, started the drop-in soccer clinic in early July, accepting only donations.

Travers is now concerned people will stop bringing their children to play soccer because of the man’s actions.

Coquitlam RCMP police confirmed that a call was received July 31 about a man making racist comments and an investigation has taken place, resulting in a warning to the 23-year-old man of no fixed address. If he returns and exhibits similar behaviour, McLaughlin said, people should call police right away.

“We will do our best to get there quickly and look at the totality of the circumstances and act accordingly,” McLaughlin said. No charges were laid, he said, adding, “Obviously, our community does not tolerate this kind of behaviour”

Still, the racist comments and campaign of intimidation have been worrying. 

Travers’ husband has been saddened by the abuse, Travers said, “This is not what he thought Canada would be.”

After word of the incidents spread, supporters began to drop by to give their thanks for the clinic and to offer their support against the verbal attacks.

Wendy Semko, who lives on Westwood Plateau, pressed a $20 bill into Travers’ hand for the Abetavu project, saying, “I was so horrified, this shouldn’t happen.”

Diane Strandberg, Tri-City News