The abuse scandal in professional women’s soccer in the USA has a much larger dimension than previously known. The US Women’s Soccer League commissioned an investigative report led by former prosecutor Sally Q. Yates after a spate of allegations by female players last year. Their investigators now presented shocking results.
The 172-page report describes the widespread sexual harassment of players by their coaches. Numerous examples of inappropriate advances and emotional and physical abuse by coaches are given. It’s about “verbal and emotional violence, sexist language, unwanted sexual advances, touching and forced sexual intercourse”. The commissioned independent commission said that the acts had a “systematic character” that was deeply rooted in American women’s football and also in the youth leagues.
“Teams, the league and the federation not only repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player complaints and evidence of abuse, they also failed to take basic steps to prevent and address it, although some leaders did privately acknowledged the need for protective measures in the workplace,” it said.
Yates and her commission interviewed more than 200 players from the professional league NWSL, including some national players. Yates outlined that abuse in the NWSL was of enormous scope. Her commission found a league in which “abuse and sexual misconduct” were the order of the day.
The perpetrators were often not punished, could have switched to new teams after the abuse and were sometimes washed away with benevolent press releases. “And nobody in the teams, the league or the association asked the coaches to improve,” says the report.
Players “who have shared their stories have shown great courage,” Yates said. “Now is the time for the institutions that have failed them so far to listen to them and institute reform to protect them.” According to Yates, this includes the clubs, those responsible for the league and the US Soccer Association.
He acted remorseful. “The findings of this investigation are heartbreaking and deeply disturbing,” said Cindy Parlow Cone, president of US Soccer and former member of the US women’s national team. The world champion and two-time Olympic champion reiterated that the “abuse described is inexcusable. We are taking the immediate actions we can today and will convene football leaders at all levels across the country to work on the recommendations so we can bring about meaningful, lasting change across the football ecosystem.” They are designed to “ensure that all players – at all levels – have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete.”
The report documented, among other things, that coaches accused of abuse were able to move from club to club because teams that included NWSL and US Soccer “failed to recognize wrongdoing and inform others.”
The investigations were ultimately triggered by former North Carolina Courage players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, who reported extensively to The Athletic magazine about their experiences with head coach Paul Riley. Accordingly, the sexual harassment and coercion extended over more than a decade. The Englishman Riley was then released, but has so far denied all allegations. However, more cases subsequently came to light in which players had reported massive sexual assaults in the NWSL.
US Soccer hired Yates to conduct the investigation. The 62-year-old was chosen because she had “extensive experience in conducting complex and highly sensitive investigations,” as the Football Association announced at the time.
The Democratic Party lawyer was Assistant Attorney General of the United States for two years and Deputy Attorney General under the Obama administration. After Donald Trump’s election victory, she agreed to continue acting as Attorney General, but was soon dismissed by Trump. She had classified an executive order from him as illegal, through which Trump had banned citizens from several Muslim countries from entering the United States.