Report: Systematic sexual misconduct in US womens soccer

The National Womens Soccer League, the highest professional football league for women in the United States, includes systematic sexual misconduct and emotional abuse. This is stated in a report by independent researchers into abuses in sport.

Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in an underlying culture in womens football, starting with youth teams where verbally aggressive coaching has normalized and boundaries between coaches and players are blurring, the report states. The researchers spoke to over 200 people.

Paul Riley

The US Football Association ordered the investigation after former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim made allegations of harassment and sexual coercion against former coach Paul Riley last year. Farrelly and Shim worked with Riley during their time at the Portland Thorns. In conversation with The Athletic, they spoke extensively about the sexual harassment that began in 2011 and lasted more than ten years.

Riley denied the charges and claimed never to have sex with players, but was fired from his club North Carolina Courage. The story turned the American womens competition upside down and the competition was temporarily shut down. Federal President Lisa Baird resigned.

The report concludes that Riley took advantage of his position by forcing some players into a sexual relationship.

No matter of hard coaching

Rileys abuse case was not isolated: five out of ten head coaches in the past season were fired or resigned themselves following allegations of misconduct. The verbal and emotional abuse that players describe in the NWSL is not a matter of hard coaching, the report states. And the players involved are not wallflowers. They are some of the best athletes in the world.

In addition to Riley, the research focused on coaches Christy Holly and Rory Dames. Holly allegedly told a player from his team that for every wrong pass she sent, he would touch her. He would also have sat down to her.

The report makes several recommendations to make the sport healthier. One of these is the requirement that clubs must disclose coaches misconduct to the competition so that the football federation can ensure that coaches cannot switch to another team. The report also calls for coaches to be vetted and timely investigations into allegations of abuse.