Abuse and misconduct “had become systemic” in the United States’ top-flight National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), an independent investigation has found.
Governing body US Soccer said it would move immediately to implement reforms.
An investigation was launched last year following allegations made against North Carolina Courage’s English head coach Paul Riley, who was sacked.
Riley, who has coached women’s teams since 2006, has denied the accusations.
After the alleged offences against Riley came to light, a round of NWSL games were suspended before players halted matches in their own displays of unity, while league commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.
US Soccer appointed Sally Yates and King & Spalding LLP to conduct the independent inquiry, who spoke to more than 200 NWSL players.
“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct – verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct – had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims,” the Yates report said.
“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer that normalises verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.
“The players who have come forward to tell their stories have demonstrated great courage. It’s now time that the institutions that failed them in the past listen to the players and enact the meaningful reform players deserve.”
US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone called the investigation’s findings “heartbreaking and deeply troubling.”
The NWSL said it would immediately review the findings.
“We greatly appreciate our players, staff and stakeholders’ cooperation with both investigations, especially during the ongoing season,” the league said in a statement.
“We recognise the anxiety and mental strain that these pending investigations have caused and the trauma that many – including players and staff – are having to relive.
“We continue to admire their courage in coming forward to share their stories and influence all the changes necessary to keep moving our league forward.”
The NWSL added that a joint investigation between the league and its players’ association is ongoing.
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