Oct 6, 2021; Cary, North Carolina, USA; WakeMed Soccer Park just before the NWSL soccer game with Racing Louisville FC at North Carolina Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports
October 6, 2021
By Amy Tennery
NEW YORK (Reuters) – North Carolina Courage owner Steve Malik said the team only became aware of sexual harassment and coercion allegations against former coach Paul Riley when they were reported last week.
National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) games at the weekend were postponed after The Athletic on Thursday outlined allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct by Riley, who led the Courage to back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019.
Riley was subsequently fired by the Courage and the league.
The Portland Thorns on Monday said they had terminated Riley’s contract in 2015 after receiving a complaint about their then-coach and shared what they had learned in their own investigation with the NWSL. He was subsequently hired by the now-defunct Western New York Flash.
In a statement on Wednesday, Malik said while he was aware of an investigation into Riley’s behavior with the Thorns in 2015, he was “assured (Riley) was in good standing” during due diligence conducted when he purchased the Flash in 2017.
The Courage was founded in 2017 after Malik acquired the franchise rights from the Flash.
“During his employment with the Courage, we had no knowledge of allegations of sexual harassment or coercion. When we learned of the horrific allegations in last week’s reporting, we took those seriously and immediately terminated Mr. Riley,” said Malik.
“Such abuse has no place in our society or in our sport, and it will never be tolerated by the North Carolina Courage organization.”
The Athletic said Riley denied “the majority” of the allegations detailed in its report. Attempts to reach Riley for comment were unsuccessful.
The NWSL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The allegations have prompted investigations by the NWSL, U.S. Soccer and FIFA. The Thorns said there had been “a systemic failure across women’s professional soccer.”
Football Australia announced it was implementing a “complaint management procedure” after retired striker Lisa De Vanna said she had been the victim of sexual assault and harassment during her career.
The NWSL was set to resume on Wednesday, with the North Carolina Courage taking on Racing Louisville at home, NJ/NY Gotham FC facing the Washington Spirit and the Portland Thorns playing the Houston Dash.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Toby Davis)