US women’s soccer shocked to standstill over NWSL sexual harassment allegations

October 4 – The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), until last week a picture of positivity, progress and growth, has reacted swiftly to the multiple allegations of sexual harassment that resulted in the firing of North Carolina Coach Paul Riley but which senior players have said is also a wider league problem.

As the scale of the failure to protect women players in the league became increasingly evident, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird (pictured), the former chief marketing officer at the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, resigned and all NWSL games at the weekend suspended as the league and its clubs came to terms with the depth of the issue.

The NWSL has formed an executive committee to manage oversight of the league’s front office operations, including Amanda Duffy (Orlando Pride), Angie Long (Kansas City NWSL), and Sophie Sauvage (OL Reign).

“On behalf of the entire league, we are heartbroken for what far too many players have had to endure in order to simply play the game they love, and we are so incredibly sorry,” said the three executive committee members in a joint statement.

“We understand that we must undertake a significant systemic and cultural transformation to address the issues required to become the type of league that NWSL players and their fans deserve and regain the trust of both. We’re committed to doing just that and recognize that this won’t happen overnight, but only through vigilance over time.”

In 2015, Riley was under investigation for inappropriate conduct in his role as head coach of the Portland Thorns. He was subsequent hired by Western New York Flash and the North Carolina Courage.

That he was allowed to continue operating in the league unchecked, but with league knowledge of the allegations, raises further serious questions over safeguarding of athletes in women’s sport in the US and football in particular, which is still coming to terms with more than a decade of horrific sexual abuse of female athletes in its elite gymnastics programme.

The NWSL has opened an investigation into the depth of sexual harassment in the league’s clubs to be carried out by law firm Covington & Burling and led by Amanda Kramer, former Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. She is tasked with coming up with a proposed set of reforms for the league.

Included in her investigation will be a re-opening of the 2015 case file on Riley and the circumstances of his move to other clubs, as well as “a review of the available investigative reports related to all historical complaints of discrimination, harassment, or abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) in the NWSL, and where necessary, a reopening of the respective investigation, or the initiation of a new adjudication process.”

The NWSL said that it is committed to the independent review of practices at league and club levels that will be “a road map to ensure safe environments for players and staff.”

In her resignation statement Baird said: “This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played.

“I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling.

“Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect.

“Business as usual isn’t our concern right now.

“Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better.”

FIFA have also entered the fray saying it will also open an investigation into the allegations.

“FIFA will be reaching out to the respective parties, including US Soccer and NWSL, for further information about the various safeguarding concerns and allegations of abuse that have been raised,” a statement said.

“When it comes to misconduct in football, we would like to reiterate that FIFA’s position is clear: anyone found guilty of misconduct and abuse in football shall be brought to justice, sanctioned and removed from the game.”

Removal of individuals from the game was a common theme on social media from leading US Women players.

Megan Rapinoe tweeted: “To everyone in a position of power who let this happen, heard it & dismissed it, signed off on this monster moving to another team w/zero repercussions, F*** YOU.”

“You’re all monsters, & can ALL hand your resignations in immediately.”

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