4th October, 2021 1:52 pm
The top women’s football league in the United States has been plunged into chaos following claims that a British coach harassed and sexually abused players and was able to continue in the top flight despite allegations levelled against him.
Fixtures were cancelled over the weekend and Lisa Baird, commissioner of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), resigned after a player on the US national team published emails showing that she had been notified of allegations against Paul Riley months earlier.
Riley, who hails from Liverpool, has led several women’s teams since 2005 and was twice named coach of the year by the NWSL. Last week he was fired by the North Carolina Courage after a player said he had coerced her to have sex with him while he was coach of the Philadelphia Independence in 2011. The player, Sinead Farrelly, told The Athletic website that his “sexual coercion” continued when she played under his leadership at other teams, including the Portland Thorns.
There Riley was said to have pressured her and a team mate named Mana Shim to kiss in front of him, saying he would not inflict a gruelling training session on the team the next day if they obeyed.
Shim filed a complaint with the Thorns in 2015 and the team announced that Riley’s contract would not be renewed. Merritt Paulson, its owner, has said the findings of its investigation were shared with the league. Riley, however, was hired five months later by the Western New York Flash, a team that was later sold, relocated to North Carolina and renamed the Courage.
Alex Morgan, a former co-captain of the US team, said on Twitter that the league “was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations. The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”
After Baird, the league’s commissioner, claimed to have responded “swiftly” to the allegations, Morgan published an email that Farrelly had sent to Baird in April, complaining that she had experienced “extremely inappropriate conduct by Mr Riley” that she had first reported in 2015”. She lamented the failure of the league “to take any action to protect players”.
Baird responded a few weeks later to say that “the initial complaint was investigated to conclusion” but the details could not be shared.
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