National Women’s Soccer League teams briefly stopped playing during their matches on Thursday to show solidarity with players who have made sexual misconduct allegations against coach Paul Riley.
Players gathered together in the centre circle in the sixth minute of the games between Gotham FC and Washington Spirit, North Carolina Courage and Racing Louisville, and Portland Thorns and Houston Dash.
Those were the first matches in the division to be played since The Athletic last week published a report containing allegations about Englishman Riley’s conduct made by players he had coached in the United States since 2010, including alleged sexual coercion.
Riley, who denies the accusations, was sacked by North Carolina Courage as head coach in light of the report, the NWSL announced matches scheduled for last weekend would not take place, and its commissioner Lisa Baird resigned. The NWSL, US Soccer and FIFA have launched investigations.
A statement from the NWSL Players’ Association on Thursday said: “Players will join together in solidarity at the centre circle for one minute in recognition of the six years it took for Mana (Shim), Sinead (Farrelly) and all those who fought for too long to be heard.
“We call on fans to stand in silence with us. During that time, we ask you to stand in that pain and discomfort with us, as we consider what too many of us have been asked to sit with for too long.”
Portland Thorns, who were managed by Riley from 2014 to 2015, released a statement saying they had “placed general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave from Thorns duties pending the results of the outside independent investigation, which is ongoing”.
CLUB STATEMENT:— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) October 7, 2021
The club’s owner Merritt Paulson had earlier in the week apologised with regard to the handling of the situation in 2015 after they received a complaint against Riley by Shim.
Paulson said the club suspended the coach and conducted an investigation, then sacked him and shared information with the NWSL, but made an “opaque announcement about not renewing Riley’s contract…guided by what we, at the time, thought was the right thing to do out of respect for player privacy”, adding: “I deeply regret our role in what is clearly a systemic failure across women’s professional soccer.”
Manchester United boss Marc Skinner, who was appointed by the club this summer after two and a half years in charge at NWSL side Orlando Pride, gave his thoughts on the show of solidarity, saying: “One of the things I absolutely adored about the NWSL was the fact that the players will make a note and they will stand up for what they believe in.
“There is no player that should ever feel vulnerable or unsafe, and I thank the players for standing up for what they believe in and what is right, and getting the justice they deserve.”
Skinner, speaking at a press conference ahead of his side’s Women’s Super League derby clash with Manchester City, was then asked if, as a man working in a female-dominated game, he took extra consideration around his behaviour.
He said: “I was a teacher before I was a professional soccer coach, so I’ve always done that because we always did safeguarding training.
“I like to say it’s common sense but I know it’s not and you have to train it. I’m on safeguarding courses at this club as well because we have that continuous development.
“I’d just urge people to continue to train, continue to practice around it. If I’m going to be a man in women’s sport, then I need to delve into what it is to support a woman in a women’s sport. My job is to magnify and support our strong players to be the best version of themselves.”
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