US women's soccer league cancels matches after abuse allegations

Los Angeles (AFP) –


The top professional women's soccer league in the United States, under fire for its handling of allegations of sexual misconduct against a head coach, announced on Friday that it was cancelling this weekend's matches.

"This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played," National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) commissioner Lisa Baird said.

"I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling," Baird added in a statement. "Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect."

The cancellation of the weekend matches comes a day after the North Carolina Courage fired head coach Paul Riley for what the team called "very serious allegations of misconduct."

Riley's dismissal came after The Athletic website detailed wide-ranging sexual misconduct by the 58-year-old Englishman spanning multiple teams and leagues since 2010.

Riley was the second NWSL coach to be dismissed this week after the league terminated Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke's contract following an investigation into allegations of verbal and emotional abuse.

In her statement, Baird, the NWSL commissioner, said "business as usual isn't our concern right now. Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better."

Baird said the decision to postpone the matches was made in collaboration with the league's players association.

"This pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue," she said.

US internationals Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe were among the players who have criticized the league's handling of the allegations against Riley.

"Bottom line: Protect your players. Do the right thing NWSL," Morgan tweeted.

"Men, protecting men, who are abusing women. I'll say it again, men, protecting men, who are ABUSING WOMEN," Rapinoe tweeted. "Burn it all down. Let all their heads roll."

- 'A pattern' -

According to The Athletic, two players, Sinead Farrelly and Meleana "Mana" Shim, had made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Riley.

'Bottom line: protect your players,' tweeted US soccer star Alex Morgan
'Bottom line: protect your players,' tweeted US soccer star Alex Morgan Alex Menendez GETTY IMAGES/AFP/File

Farrelly, who played for Riley at three different teams in different leagues, accused the coach of "sexual coercion" while he was her coach at the Philadelphia Independence.

She said she had been coerced into having sex with Riley after going to his hotel room following a defeat in the Women's Professional Soccer League final in 2011. Riley allegedly told her "we're taking this to our graves."

In another incident during his reign at the Portland Thorns, Farrelly and Shim said Riley had forced them to kiss each other while at his apartment.

"This guy has a pattern," Shim told The Athletic.

Morgan, who played under Riley at the same time, confirmed the players' allegations and said she had tried to help them file a report with the league.

"The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations," Morgan said. "The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse."

In a statement to The Athletic, Riley denied wrongdoing, describing the allegations as "completely untrue."

"I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players," he told the website.

The league's players' union, the NWSLPA, said in a tweet that "systemic abuse" was "plaguing the NWSL."

"Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness and disappointment," the NWSLPA said.

On Thursday, Baird said the league was implementing a new anonymous reporting process for players, team and league staff.