The top league of women’s football in America has cancelled all games this weekend in response to allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct by a former manager.
On Thursday Paul Riley was sacked by his current NWSL team, North Carolina Courage, after a wave of accusations emerged in an investigation by The Athletic including that he coerced a former player into having sex with him.
NWSL commissioner Lisa 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. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”
The report also said Riley was hired by the now-defunct Western New York Flash despite a complaint over his behaviour that was shared with the league after his 2015 season with the Portland Thorns.
The Thorns said that they “conducted a thorough investigation” after receiving the complaint. “While the findings did not show unlawful activity, they did uncover clear violations of our company policies. Based on this, we chose to sever ties with Riley,” the team said. “The findings of the investigation were fully shared with the NWSL league office.”
Responding to the claims, Riley said they were “completely untrue”. He told The Athletic: “I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players.”
“The Courage support the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories,” the Courage said in a statement, confirming Riley’s termination.
The allegations rocked the world of professional soccer in North America, with the National Women’s Soccer League Players’ Association (NWSLPA) demanding sweeping change across the NWSL and accusing it of lacking “basic and fundamental protections that ensure dignity at work”.
Twice US World Cup winners Alex Morgan of the Orlando Pride and OL Reign player Megan Rapinoe were among prominent players who voiced their outrage and called for change.
“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,” Rapinoe said on Twitter. “You’re all monsters and can ALL hand your resignations in immediately.”
Additional reporting by Reuters