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NWSL: National Women's Soccer League gives life bans to four coaches following abuse and misconduct investigation

Four coaches handed life bans from NWSL after an investigation conclusion of "widespread misconduct" directed at players dating back to nearly a decade ago in America's top women's league; Ireland head coach Vera Pauw among those potentially allowed to return, subject to certain conditions

TACOMA, WA - APRIL 21: A view of the NWSL  logo before the NWSL soccer match between the Orlando Pride and the Seattle Reign on April 21, 2019 at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, WA. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire)

The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) has permanently banned four people from coaching in the competition in response to an investigation into alleged abuse and misconduct.

Former North Carolina coach Paul Riley, ex-Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames, former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke, and ex-Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly have all been given bans.

A number of other individuals will be allowed to return to positions in the NWSL on certain conditions, including acknowledging misconduct, participating in training and committing to appropriate behaviour.

They included Republic of Ireland head coach Vera Pauw, who was coach at Houston Dash in 2018, and denied "every allegation" about her when the investigation report was released.

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 27:  Houston Dash head coach Vera Pauw looks out on to the pitch during the soccer match between the Washington Spirit and Houston Dash on May 27, 2018 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
Image: Vera Pauw pictured during her time at Houston Dash

Pauw's successor James Clarkson will be allowed to return to the NWSL, subject to satisfying those same conditions, along with former Reign coach Farid Benstiti and ex-Orlando Pride coach Amanda Cromwell.

But former coach of Utah Royals, Craig Harrington, and ex-Gotham general manager Alyse LaHue have been suspended from working in the NWSL for two years.

The NWSL and its players' association announced results late last month of its investigation, which found widespread misconduct directed at players dating back to the beginnings of the league nearly a decade ago.

The investigation stemmed from allegations of harassment and sexual coercion made by two former players against Riley, who was among five NWSL coaches who were either dismissed or resigned amid claims of misconduct in 2021.

US Soccer also investigated reported misconduct in the league.

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman, who took up her post last April, said: "The league will continue to prioritise implementing and enhancing the policies, programmes and systems that put the health and safety of our players first.

"Those actions are fundamental to the future of our league, especially as we build a league that strengthens our players' ability to succeed and prosper on and off the pitch.

"As part of our commitment to accountability and deterrence, the league has determined that further corrective action with respect to certain organisations and individuals identified in the Joint Investigative Report is appropriate and necessary."

England and USA stand together in the centre circle with a banner which reads "Protect the Players" as a show of solidarity for the victims of sexual abuse before the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Friday October 7, 2022.
Image: England and USA stood together ahead of their game at Wembley last October with a message of solidarity for players in the NWSL and beyond

A number of teams were also fined, with the Chicago Red Stars ($1.5m) and the Portland Thorns ($1m) incurring the biggest financial penalties.

Racing Louisville were fined $200,000, North Carolina Courage $100,000, and The Reign and Gotham were each fined $50,000.

The NWSL Players' Association added in a statement: "Today the NWSL announced disciplinary sanctions for clubs and individuals who committed or enabled misconduct since the league began in 2013.

"This marks a critical step towards holding clubs and team leaders accountable for their actions, or inactions, that compromised and betrayed player safety.

"People in positions of power who have perpetrated harm on players have been relieved of their duties, banned from the league, suspended or fined."

The joint investigation was launched last year after a pair of former players came forward and accused long-time NWSL coach Paul Riley of sexual harassment and coercion.

Riley, who has denied the allegations, was fired by the North Carolina Courage in the aftermath. He was among five head coaches in the league who were either fired or resigned in 2021 amid claims of misconduct.

The fallout continued in 2022, with Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson announcing on December 1 he was putting the team up for sale.

The investigative team for the joint investigation reached out to 780 current and former players, all 12 NWSL teams and 90 current and former club staff, and those from the league office.

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