Football: US women's soccer probe uncovers 'systemic' abuse and sexual misconduct

US Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone called the findings "devastating and infuriating". PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK - One coach called in a player to review game footage and showed her pornography instead. Another was notorious at the highest levels of US women's football for alternately berating his players and then quizzing them about their sex lives.

A third coach coerced multiple players into sexual relationships, behaviour that one top team found so disturbing that they fired him. But when he was hired by a rival team only a few months later, his former club, who had documented the incidents in an internal investigation, said nothing. Instead, they publicly wished him well.

Those details fill an independent investigative report into abuse in US women's football that found sexual misconduct, verbal abuse and emotional abuse by coaches in the game's top tier, the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), and issued warnings that girls face abuse in youth football as well.

The 172-page report by former acting US attorney general Sally Yates and the King & Spalding law firm was published on Monday, a year after players who were outraged by a culture of abuse in their sport demanded changes by refusing to take the field.

The probe found that leaders of the NWSL and governing body the United States Soccer Federation - as well as owners, executives and coaches at all levels failed to act on years of persistent reports of "systemic" abuse by coaches.

They also "failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections".

All were more concerned about being sued by coaches or about the teetering finances of women's professional football than player welfare, according to the report.

"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," Yates wrote in the report.

"Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women's soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalises verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.

"The players who have come forward to tell their stories have demonstrated great courage. It's now time that the institutions that failed them in the past listen to the players and enact the meaningful reform players deserve."

The report included interviews with more than 200 NWSL players - many of them members of US national teams - and detailed patterns of abuse from coaches, manipulation and tirades plus retaliation for those who complained.

Cindy Parlow Cone, the US Soccer Federation president and a former member of the national team, called the findings "devastating and infuriating". She added that there are "systemic failures within soccer that must be corrected", and that the federation would immediately implement a number of the report's recommendations.

Initiatives include online and text systems for reporting incidents, tighter verifying of coaches and referees, and background screenings. A new office of participant safety will be established to address the findings and act on recommendations.

The NWSL, in a statement, also promised "systemic reform" to ensure the league has "safe and professional environments to train and compete" and acknowledged the "anxiety and mental strain" for women reliving traumatic incidents. NYTIMES, AFP

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