NWSL teams halt matches in 'powerful' protest after sexual misconduct allegations

National Women’s Soccer League players briefly halted their matches last night to link arms and show solidarity with those who made sexual misconduct allegations against coach Paul Riley

National Women’s Soccer League players briefly halted their matches last night to link arms and show solidarity with those who made sexual misconduct allegations against coach Paul Riley.

All three matches yesterday were paused in the sixth minute, with players from both sides linking arms to form a circle in the middle of the pitch.

In a statement, the NWSL Players' Association explained the significance of the powerful on-pitch protest.

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

"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 too many of us have been asked to sit with for too long.

"We call on you to consider, in that minute, what is demanded of each of us to reclaim our league and our sport."

Last week, The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual misconduct by North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley, having spoken to more than a dozen players he had coached since 2010.

One player, Sinead Farrelly, claimed Riley coerced her into having sex with him while they were both at Portland Thorns. She also accused Riley of forcing her to kiss a teammate, Mana Shim, at his apartment.

Since The Athletic’s report was published, North Carolina Courage has sacked Riley, who denies "the majority" of allegations. NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird has also resigned from her position, and last weekend's matches were postponed.

Portland Thorns apologised for their lack of transparency after receiving a complaint about Riley in 2015, and announced general manager Gavin Wilkinson had been placed on administrative leave.

Shim responded to the NWSL players' protest on Twitter, posting: "No words, only tears. Thank you."

Farrelly wrote: "Absolutely blown away. Tears and chills watching this happen. My heart goes out to every single player-former and current- who has lived through this culture of silence. We are demanding change and we are not going away."

The protest has also made an impression away from the US, with BBC women’s sport reporter Jo Currie writing on Twitter: "One of the most powerful images in sport I’ve ever seen.."

The allegations surrounding Riley, who led North Carolina Courage to back-to-back NWSL championships in 2018 and 2019, are just the latest reports of misconduct to emerge from the league.

Last year, Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen was forced to sell the club after reports of racist comments and a sexist culture in the front office. Head coach Craig Harrington was also put on administrative leave after claims of misconduct.

Gotham FC dismissed general manager Alyse LaHue in July after she was found to have violated the NWSL’s new anti-harassment policy, while Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke had his contract terminated earlier this month after an investigation into allegations of verbal and emotional abuse of players.

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