NWSL announces new executive group after harassment scandal

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FILE – In this file photo from September 20, 2018, North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley is interviewed by a reporter next to the National Women’s Football League championship trophy during a media event at Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. The National Women’s Soccer League will not play scheduled games this weekend as it deals with the fallout of allegations of sexual misconduct against a former coach. North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was fired by the team following a report in The Athletic which detailed the alleged misconduct, which included allegations of sexual coercion from two former players. The NWSL did not specify on Friday October 1, 2021 whether the matches were canceled or postponed. (AP Photo / Anne M. Peterson, file)

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Following the resignation of the National Women’s Football League commissioner amid a sexual harassment and misconduct scandal involving a longtime coach, a three-woman executive committee was formed to oversee the operations of the league.

The NWSL also launched an independent inquiry on Sunday into its handling of abuse complaints. The league was rocked this week when two former players raised allegations of harassment, including sexual coercion, against North Carolina Courage coach Raul Riley.

Riley was immediately sacked by Courage, and FIFA and US Soccer opened investigations into why he was able to continue coaching even after players raised concerns with the league.

The NWSL canceled games this weekend and Baird resigned Friday night.

The league’s board of governors has appointed an executive committee made up of Amanda Duffy, Angie Long and Sophie Sauvage to oversee the front office until a new commissioner is appointed.

“On behalf of the entire league, we are heartbroken for what far too many players have had to endure just to play the game they love, and we are incredibly sorry,” the three said in a joint statement on Sunday. “We understand that we need to undertake a significant systemic and cultural transformation to address the issues needed to become the type of league NWSL players and their fans deserve and to regain the trust of both.”

The league has retained the services of an outside firm to investigate the allegations and report to the executive committee. The investigation includes the complaints against Riley as well as all other historical complaints of discrimination, harassment or abuse.

The NWSL, in its ninth year, also said it was conducting an independent review of the practices and policies of its teams. In addition, comprehensive policies and procedures would be adopted to ensure “systematic, transparent and effective enforcement of any issue of harassment or conduct in the workplace”.

A secure and anonymous reporting platform has been set up so that players and staff can report faults.

As the NWSL games this weekend were called off, Portland fans set off smoke bombs in the 25th minute of the Major League Soccer game between the Portland Timbers and Inter Miami. A large sign was posted: Believe, Support and Protect the NWSL Players.

Fans were also due to assemble Sunday night in Seattle outside Lumen Field, where the Sounders were to face the Colorado Rapids.

US Soccer suspended Riley’s coaching license on Thursday after The Athletic published allegations of abuse by former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim.

Farrelly’s alleged harassment began in 2011 when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the now defunct women’s professional football league.

She told the website that the harassment continued when she was with the Portland Thorns. Shim, a former Thorns player, has also reportedly suffered harassment. The Thorns said Thursday the team investigated the allegations about Riley and passed them on to the league when he was fired.

Riley told The Athletic the allegations were “completely untrue”.

Riley was head coach of the Thorns in 2014 and 2015. After being let go by the Thorns, he became head coach of the Western New York Flash for a season before the team was sold and transferred to North Carolina.

Baird became commissioner of the NWSL in February 2020, after serving as director of marketing for the United States Olympic Committee. She was praised for bringing new sponsors to the NWSL and increasing the league’s visibility on the national stage, as well as for guiding the organization through the coronavirus pandemic.

This story was originally published October 3, 2021 8:07 pm.


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