American women’s soccer: A ‘systemic’ practice of sexual abuse and assault

WASHINGTON | A ‘systemic’ pattern of sexual assault and other abuse in women’s soccer, involving several professional players – some on the national team – and young people, comes to light in a damning independent investigation for the American Federation, which promises measures.

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The investigation by former U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates and law firm King & Spalding found that there were “sexually charged comments, advances, unwanted touching and forced sexual intercourse” within the national women’s soccer league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), and even beyond, in structures reserved for young players.

These behaviors “have become systemic, encompassing multiple teams, coaches and victims,” Yates wrote in her report, noting that “these abuses within the NWSL are actually rooted in a deeper women’s soccer culture, which blurs boundaries between coaches and players.

The investigation was commissioned a year ago by the president of the federation, the US Soccer Federation (USSF), Cindy Parlow Cone, in the wake of accusations of sexual assault brought by two players against English coach Paul Riley, then fired by North Carolina Courage. Another coach, Richie Burke, who ran the Washington Spirit, was also fired after an investigation into verbal abuse and moral harassment.

The 172-page report includes interviews with more than 200 NWSL players and details abuse by other coaches, manipulation, bullying and retaliation against players.

Victims among young people too

The investigation found that Rory Dames, who coached the Chicago Red Stars until his resignation in November 2021, was guilty of obscenities and verbal abuse. A sexualized work environment allowed him to have several inappropriate sexual relationships with female players.

Christy Holly coached Sky Blue in Harrison, New Jersey for half a season in 2016, before quitting after facing a non-consensual relationship and verbal abuse complaint. This did not prevent him from being hired last year by Racing Louisville, which in turn fired him for touching a player.

“The verbal abuse and emotional abuse described by players in the league is not just about the ‘roughness’ of training,” Yates said. “These players are not shy, fragile. They are among the best in the world, some play with the United States team.

The survey also found that “the abuse goes beyond the NWSL and appears to be rooted in youth structures, where a culture of tolerance for verbal abuse has taken hold.” “We have been confronted with multiple reports of sexual abuse of young players,” he added.

Two of Team USA’s stars, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, Olympic champions in 2012 and world champions in 2015 and 2019, were quick to denounce the inaction of the governing bodies of American women’s soccer at the time of the Paul affair. Riley.

collective passivity

The investigation backs them up, concluding that clubs, league and federation officials “failed to react appropriately on several occasions when confronted with complaints made by players, evidence at support”. And “they have not put in place the necessary measures to prevent and address these abuses, even though some leaders have privately acknowledged the need to protect the workplace.”

This collective passivity thus allowed a coach with abusive behavior to move from one club to another thanks to positive references which concealed his misconduct. “Those at the NWSL and USSF who were in a position to correct the situation remained silent, mention the investigators. And no one within the clubs, the league or the federation has demanded better from the coaches.

“Now is the time for the governing bodies, which have let players down in the past, to listen to them and implement the meaningful reform they deserve.”

“The federation is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players – at all levels – have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete,” promised Cindy Parlow Cone , calling the findings of the investigation “heartbreaking and deeply disturbing.”

Among the first initiatives is the hiring of a full-time coordinator of SafeSport (an independent organization specially mandated to tackle the problem of violence – verbal, physical, psychological and sexual – in sport), the creation of an online incident reporting and case management unit, as well as the implementation of background checks for coaches, referees and other employees .

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