Liverpool-born coach Paul Riley has been fired as the head coach of NWSL team the North Carolina Courage amid allegations of sexual misconduct as two of his former players spoke out about the alleged abuse they suffered.
Riley was let go from his position in the United States’ top women’s league after his ex-players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim detailed shocking allegations against him in an expose published by sports outlet The Athletic.
Amongst the various complaints against Riley – who has spent his entire professional career coaching in the United States – are allegations that he compelled Farrelly and others to have sex with him, ‘forced’ players to join him on extended drinking sessions, sent some players sexually explicit photographs of himself as well as other mental and emotional abuse centered around issues like playing time and status in the starting XI.
Riley had previously answered some of The Athletic’s charges by saying the majority of the allegations against him are “completely untrue” but did admit to socializing with players on some occasions.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) September 30, 2021
The National Women’s Soccer League Players Association (NWSLPA) have asked league chiefs to open a wide-ranging investigation to the claims against Riley, while the duo of Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan – both of whom are stars of women’s football in the United States – have claimed that previous complaints against Riley were ignored and said that the league had failed in its duty of protecting female players.
Addressing the matter, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said that she was “shocked and disgusted” by the nature of the allegations against Riley and said that they have been referred to the US Center for SafeSport for further investigation.
“We are implementing a new anonymous reporting process, whereby players, teams and league staff may text concerns to the league, which will be promptly investigated,” Baird added.
“We ask our players and all associated with the league to raise their concerns to us, as we continue to make our league a safe, positive and respectful environment for our players, clubs, staff and fans.”
— Samantha Mewis (@sammymewy) September 30, 2021
— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) September 30, 2021
“I support Sinead and Mara,” wrote United States international Sam Mewis in support of her colleagues Farrelly and Shim.
“I am horrified to read the details of what happened to them. The league needs to do whatever is necessary to make them (and other victims like Kaiya) feel heard, believed and protected.
“The physical and psychological safety of the players in the NWSL is of the utmost importance. I’m still processing and reflecting on how I can be part of making a safer environment for players.”
Another of Riley’s former teams, the Portland Thorns, where he coached for two years wrote in response to the Athletic article that there was “much that we are just hearing about now” but admitted that they had been made aware of complaints against their former coach in the past.
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“We take all complaints about harassment extremely seriously. Immediately upon receiving a complaint from a player in 2015, we conducted a thorough investigation advised by an outside law firm and placed Riley on administrative leave,” they wrote on social media.
“While the findings did not show unlawful activity, they did uncover clear violations of our company policies. Based on this, we chose to sever ties with Riley. The findings of the investigation were fully shared with the NWSL league office.
“Throughout the club’s existence, we have always encouraged players and staff to freely express themselves on and off the field on any issue and in any context they choose. We are proud of our incredible body of community work and the impact it’s had, our long-standing ethos of social justice and inclusion, and of player and employee advocacy.
“The article is a difficult read and there are some horrifying revelations. We have grown since 2015 as an organization and will continue to seek to improve and get better. We will fully cooperate with any additional inquiries into this matter and, more importantly, re-examine our own processes and protocol that are intended to ensure a safe space.”