Football: Women players in US pro league halt play in 'solidarity' moment

North Carolina Courage and Racing Louisville FC players stand together at the six minute mark during the first half of a NWSL soccer match at WakeMed Soccer Park on Oct 7, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - Players from the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC halted play on Wednesday (Oct 6), leading protests against sexual misconduct scandals that have swept across the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) in recent weeks.

NWSL games resumed on Wednesday with three fixtures after the league called off games last weekend following the latest revelations to hit the top professional women's league in the United States.

Banners and signs declaring, "PROTECT THE PLAYERS" and "NO MORE SILENCE" also ringed the pitches.

Washington and Gotham players halted play in the sixth minute in what was described as a gesture of "solidarity" by the NWSL Players' Association, and similar protests followed at the games between the North Carolina Courage and Racing Louisville in Cary, North Carolina, and between the Portland Thorns and Houston Dash.

An hour before the Portland v Houston game, the club announced general manager Gavin Wilkinson had been placed on administrative leave.

"Tonight, we reclaim our place on the field, because we will not let our joy be taken from us," the NWSLPA statement read. "But this is not business as usual."

Spirit and Gotham players joined arms on the centre circle for the pause in play, which was timed to reflect the number of years it took for allegations against former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley to be addressed.

Riley was fired last week for "very serious allegations of misconduct". Two players, Sinead Farrelly and Meleana "Mana" Shim, accused Riley of misconduct during his time as Portland Thorns coach in 2015.

According to The Athletic, which first broke the news, Riley has denied "the majority" of the allegations in its report.

"Players will join together in solidarity at the centre circle for one minute in honour of the six years it took for Mana, Sinead and all those who fought for too long to be heard," the statement read.

"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 we have been asked to sit with for too long."

Allegations of sexual harassment and abusive or bullying behaviour by coaches and officials in the NWSL have snowballed in recent months.

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned on Friday following criticism of her handling of the complaints. The issue has also prompted investigations by US Soccer and Fifa, the sport's world body.

The NWSL players' association statement detailed a list of demands being made by the union, which included a request for every coach and general manager to submit to the independent investigation into abusive conduct.

The players' union also called for an investigation announced by the NWSL on Sunday to be expanded in scope to include all 12 NWSL clubs as well as league staff.

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