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US women's soccer in turmoil amid sexual abuse claims

October 2, 2021

The National Women's Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird has handed in her resignation. It follows reports of "very serious allegations of misconduct" against a former coach.

Lisa Baird portrait
Lisa Baird handed in her resignation on Friday following a sexual abuse scandal involving a coachImage: Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

The fallout from sexual misconduct allegations in the top US professional women's soccer league continued growing on Friday.

The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned from her position.

The NWSL announced plans on Friday to postpone all matches this weekend.

General counsel Lisa Levine also left her post. She and Baird were reportedly ousted by the league's directors, US media reported.

The actions came a day after the North Carolina Courage woman's soccer team fired head coach Paul Riley for what the team called "very serious allegations of misconduct."

'Incredibly traumatic' season

"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," Baird said earlier Friday.

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

Sexual abuse allegations

The disruption to the NWSL came after the Athletic sports news website detailed wide-ranging sexual misconduct by 58-year-old Paul Riley. He was dismissed on Thursday.

The Athletic cited more than a dozen of Riley's former players, including two who went on the record, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, to detail the English coach's pattern of behavior.

Paul Riley wearing a beige suite
Paul Riley was fired after sexual abuse allegations surfaceImage: John Todd/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

Riley was alleged to have coerced Farrelly and other players to have sex with him. He allegedly forced players to join in on nights of excessive drinking, sent some of them a lurid picture and manipulated them mentally and emotionally in other ways related to their playing time and status on the team.

Investigation launched

US Soccer said it is working to identify someone to lead an investigation into the allegations. It said that results will be shared with the public upon its conclusion.

"We take seriously our responsibility to vigorously investigate the abhorrent behavior that has been reported and gain a full and frank understanding of the factors that allowed it to happen, and the changes that should be made to make sure it does not happen again," a US Soccer statement said, in part.

FIFA said in a statement Friday that it has opened a preliminary investigation into the accusations as well.

No replacements for Baird or Levine have been announced.

kmm/fb (AFP, Reuters)