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Year-long probe reveals 'systemic,' 'heartbreaking' abuse in US women's soccer

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Portland Thorns and Houston Dash paused their match last October to honor sexual abuse survivors and protest the league’s handling of complaints. (Photo by Reuters)

A year-long independent probe has revealed “systemic” abuse and sexual misconduct in women’s soccer in the United States, which affected multiple teams, coaches and players, while officials turned a blind eye.

The report states that abuse in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is "rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.”

“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct-verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct-had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims,” reads the 172-page report.

It includes interviews with more than 200 national-level soccer players, leading to a pattern of "sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and touching, and coercive sexual intercourse" by coaches and managers.

The report, headed by former deputy US attorney general Sally Q Yates, was published a year after a story published by The Athletic about sexual misconduct by former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley.

NWSL players then came forward and expressed their outrage by refusing to take the field, which eventually forced the authorities to launch an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct in American women’s soccer.  

The report also found that the United States Soccer Federation, NWSL owners, executives, and coaches at all levels failed to act on years of reports of abuses by coaches, and no action was seen to take place against complaints of abuse by coaches.

Coaches with charges of abuse were sacked from their teams only to take up coaching jobs on other teams. The US Soccer Federation (USSF) and the league were more prone to protecting the reputations and job security of individuals who abused their power than protecting the women players they abused.

The report said the league officials and the USSF "repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse," and "failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections."

"Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent," it stated. "And no one at the teams, the league or the federation demanded better of coaches."

USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone termed the findings of the investigation "heartbreaking and deeply troubling" and said the abuse described in the report was "inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace."

“As the national governing body for our sport, US Soccer 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," she said in a statement.

"We are taking the immediate action that we can today, and will convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country to collaborate on the recommendations so we can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem.”

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