THE NWSL is in turmoil.

It has postponed a weekend’s matches as a protest due to the sexual allegations of misconduct involving North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.

The Englishman, 58, has denied the allegations. He led the Courage to back-to-back NWSL championships in 2018 and 2019.

Nevertheless, Riley was sacked following investigations by The Athletic. They had interviewed over a dozen players he had coached since 2010.

Former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Meleana Shim vocalised their experiences.

Farrelly claims that the harassment began in 2011 when she played for Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Soccer League and continued when she joined the NWSL’s Portland Thorns in 2014, both managed by Riley.

She says that she was “under his control” and was coerced into having sex with Riley.

In 2015, Riley was under investigation for inappropriate conduct.

Farrelly claims he “made harrassing comments about my personal relationships and sexual orientation” which he was not scrutinised for.

Riley was removed as head coach of the Portland Thorns following the investigation but was later announced as the manager of the North Carolina Courage.

Shim said: “I felt from the beginning like I owed him.”

On one occasion, Riley allegedly invited Shim and Farrelly back to his flat after a night of drinking and asked them to kiss each other for him in exchange for the team not having to do a gruelling conditioning exercise.

Riley has claimed the allegations are “completely untrue.”

“I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players,” Riley told The Athletic.

He said he sometimes socialised with players and occasionally paid for bar tabs but added: “I do not take them out drinking.”

The allegations are extremely serious, involving several teams over multiple years.

“I was shocked and disgusted to read the new allegations,” NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said. She has resigned from her position since the story broke.

“I’m so sorry for the pain so many are feeling,” Baird added.

“Recognising 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.

“This pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”

An official statement, signed by “the players, staff and principal owner” of North Carolina Courage, said: “The Courage support the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories.

“The North Carolina Football Club is united together in our commitment to creating a safe, positive and respectful environment, not only within our club but across the league and our great sport.”

World governing body FIFA reportedly was “deeply concerned” by the reports. So much so, that it has begun an investigation “due to the severity and seriousness of the allegations being made by players.”

“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 from the organisation read.

“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.

“FIFA takes any allegation of misconduct reported to it extremely seriously and will continue to cooperate together with the relevant national and international authorities on any allegation or report that is made in confidence to FIFA about abuse or misconduct in football.”

Moreover, the NWSL players’ association has called for an investigation. The move has also garnered support from two-time World Cup winners Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe who have long wanted changes across the league.

Morgan suggested the NWSL is at fault for institutional failure by turning a blind eye to the abuse.

“The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations,” she tweeted.

“The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”

Rapinoe did not hold back in her contempt, if not hatred, of the masculine.

“Men, protecting men, who are abusing women,” World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe wrote on social media.

“I’ll say it again, men, protecting men, who are ABUSING WOMEN.

“Burn it all down.

“Let all their heads roll.”

Rapinoe also wrote a series of angry tweets condemning the entire organisation.

“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,” she wrote in a separate post.

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

Riley is not the only NWSL coach this season to be fired for sexual misconduct and abusive behaviour.

Ex-Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke caused four players to leave the club over two years following his mistreatment of them.

He reportedly made racist jokes towards black players and called his players “dog s***” and “a waste of space.”

“I was 100 per cent in a situation where I was being emotionally abused by Richie,” former Spirit player Kaiya McCullough told The Washington Post.

“He created this environment where I knew I wasn’t playing as well, because I was so, so scared to mess up and be yelled at.

“It crippled my performance, and it made me super anxious.”

Let us be clear. Any form of sexual harassment, misconduct or abuse is intolerable in any sport.

There is a power inequality in all sports between coach and players. The ego and personality of the coach is the critical factor.

Issues of narcissism, control, manipulation are often part of the repertoire.

But not all male coaches are the same. Equally, some female coaches share the same personality structure and lust for power and exploitation.

These are complicated matters. Many factors are involved, but there are some simple, immediate changes which can be made.

They relate to governance.

The NWSL is currently in the process of implementing an anonymous reporting process where players and staff can text concerns to the league, which will then be investigated.

It has urged all who are associated with the league to speak out against abuse as it strives to create a safe and respectful atmosphere.

FIFA is correct to view such matters with the utmost priority.

The psychological consequences of sexual coercion, control or abuse are severe. Depression, anxiety, fear, issues of self esteem and worth, drug and alcohol abuse can manifest.

Sexual identity and eating disorders are also evident.

Every child, woman, man, or any other gender has the right to demand a safe workplace free of discrimination and abuse of any kind.


Image via BBC

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