There is trouble in the NWSL as a report released in The Athletic has once again rocked the league and wider football community. The article details allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct made against Paul Riley by two of his former players.
The allegations made by Sinead Farrelly against Riley date back to 2011 and 2012, with a later incident in 2015 involving both Farrelly and her former teammate Mana Shim.
Whilst Riley denies “the majority” of the accusations against him, North Carolina Courage fired their head coach just hours after the article was released. In a statement confirming his dismissal, the club praised the bravery of the players who spoke out against Riley.
Following the 2015 incident, Riley was the subject of an investigation by Portland Thorns. Riley was released from his role, however the investigation’s findings were never made public. Following his dismissal, Riley was hired by the Western New York Flash. The franchise later moved to North Carolina, and Riley remained head coach.
After The Athletic story broke, messages of support flooded in to the players affected. Many of those criticised the people in charge within both the league and the teams involved for failing to protect players. Megan Rapinoe was one such voice in the discussion for the need to safeguard players at all levels of the game.
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird announced the matches scheduled to take place that weekend would not go ahead.
In the announcement, Baird said: “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”.
No matches took place in the NWSL until the 6th October. Baird then resigned from her position just days later.
Show of unity
As the WSL got underway at the weekend, players once again made their solidarity with their counterparts in the US clear. Chelsea players and staff linked arms prior to kick off while Leicester applauded. Arsenal and Everton huddled around the centre circle before their match to applause from both sets of fans.
Brighton, Tottenham, Reading, Aston Villa, West Ham, and Birmingham also all participated in the gesture. The Manchester Derby was the only match not to participate over the weekend.
Next steps for the NWSL
Following Baird and league general counsel Lisa Levine’s resignations, the league has instituted several changes. A three-woman executive committee has been appointed to oversee league operations until a new commissioner is found. The NWSL, FIFA, and United States Soccer have all opened investigations into the league’s policies. The investigations will focus on how Riley and other coaches were able to remain in their positions despite allegations of abuse.
The league has come back to the pitch, and the regular season wraps up Halloween weekend. Following the playoffs, the league will have time to address the serious issues that are facing the NWSL. One thing remains certain – the NWSL needs to do more to protect its players.