NWSL commish ousted, FIFA gets involved as NC Courage sexual coercion scandal rocks women's soccer

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Saturday, October 2, 2021
NWSL commissioner ousted as women's soccer scandal deepens
NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird is out a day after sexual coercion allegations against NC Courage head coach Paul Riley came to light.

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- A day after the North Carolina Courage head coach was fired amid reports of inappropriate sexual behavior, all weekend games for the National Women's Soccer League have been canceled and the league commissioner ousted

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird made the announcement about matches Friday just hours before the NC Courage was scheduled to kick off in Cary.

"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 in a statement. "I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling. Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. 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. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue."

Shortly afterward, Lisa was out of a job.

Baird was out after about 19 months on the job amid the scandals that have rocked the NWSL, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The NWSL later confirmed that it had received and accepted Baird's resignation.

The move appears to be in response to the new claims of misconduct, including sexual coercion, leveled by two former players against Courage head coach Paul Riley.

The accusations against Paul Riley span decades. The North Carolina Courage fired the head coach effective immediately.

Earlier Friday, the NWSL Players Association had called for an investigation into allegations spanning over a decade of sexual coercion and inappropriate comments about players' weight and sexual orientation against Riley.

The players' union has said as well as supporting the two former players -- Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim -- who came out against Riley, it also supports Kaiya McCullough who was part of a Washington Post investigation into former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke.

Sean Nahas has been named interim head coach of the Courage for the remainder of the season.

FIFA's judicial bodies on Friday opened an investigation into the sexual harassment scandal.

FIFA told The Associated Press it was "deeply concerned" by the case and will now be seeking further details from American soccer authorities about the issues raised.

It is rare for world soccer's governing body to make such an intervention in a controversy involving a member association.

"Due to the severity and seriousness of the allegations being made by players, we can confirm that FIFA's judicial bodies are actively looking into the matter and have opened a preliminary investigation," FIFA said in a statement to the AP. "As part of this, FIFA will be reaching out to the respective parties, including US Soccer and NWSL, for further information about the various safeguarding concerns and allegations of abuse that have been raised."

U.S. Soccer suspended Riley's coaching license following a report Thursday by The Athletic in which former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim recounted alleged abuse by the English-born Riley.

The alleged harassment of Farrelly started in 2011 when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the defunct Women's Professional Soccer league.

She told the website the abuse continued when Farrelly was with the Portland Thorns. Shim, a former Thorns player, also allegedly experienced harassment. The Thorns said Thursday that the team investigated claims about Riley and passed those on to the league when he was dismissed.

"When it comes to misconduct in football," FIFA said, "we would like to reiterate that FIFA's position is clear: anyone found guilty of misconduct and abuse in football shall be brought to justice, sanctioned and removed from the game.

"FIFA takes any allegation of misconduct reported to it extremely seriously and will continue to cooperate together with the relevant national and international authorities on any allegation or report that is made in confidence to FIFA about abuse or misconduct in football."

Riley told The Athletic the allegations were "completely untrue."

Riley was head coach of the Thorns in 2014 and 2015. After he was let go by the Thorns, he became head coach of the Western New York Flash for a season before the team was sold and moved to North Carolina.

Riley was WPS Coach of the Year in 2011 and earned the same honors in the NWSL in 2017 and 2018. The Courage won the NWSL championship in 2018 and 2019.

In its ninth season, the NWSL has been rocked by several recent scandals involving team officials.

Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke was fired after a Washington Post report detailed verbal and emotional abuse of players. The league formally dismissed Burke and sanctioned the Spirit on Tuesday after an independent investigation.

Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue was fired in July after an investigation connected to the league's anti-harassment policy. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly was fired in September but the reasons for his dismissal were not made public.

OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti abruptly resigned in July. On Friday, OL Reign chief executive officer and minority owner Bill Predmore said Benstiti was asked to step down after an undisclosed incident during practice.

Benstiti had previously been accused by U.S. national team midfielder Lindsay Horan of sexist behavior during his time as coach of Paris Saint-Germain. Horan has said she was berated by Benstiti because of her weight.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.