As you probably know if you are a fan of women's soccer, the last few weeks have been a tumultuous time in the NWSL. On September 30th, Meg Linehan of The Athletic published an article in which over a dozen players, including Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, accused former North Carolina Courage Head Coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion and verbal abuse. Since then, Paul Riley has been fired, former NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird has resigned, and calls to protect the players have reverberated across the country.
This story has reached audiences beyond the world of women's soccer. Farrelly, Shim, and others have made appearances on outlets like The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and CNN. ESPN has given the story and its developments regular coverage. This is massive for women's soccer in the United States, but this story and its consequences could also have massive implications for women's soccer around the world.
We're already seeing one example of that. On Tuesday, Deyna Castellanos and other members of the Venezuelan Women's National Team released a statement accusing former U20 Coach Kenneth Zseremeta of committing physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of players as young as 14. The allegations include that Zseremeta manipulated one of the players' parents by taking advantage of her family's financial needs, that he constantly questioned LGBTQ+ players about their sexual orientation, and that he threatened to out those players to some of their parents. The statement says that sexual advances were "day-to-day topics, as were comments about the physical attractiveness of our players."
When the accusations in the NWSL were first revealed, one thought immediately presented itself: if this could happen in a league in the United States--with significantly more resources and media coverage than women's soccer gets in most parts of the world--then it was absolutely happening in other places. We certainly have some evidence of this already. For example, the Gabon U20 team accusing their coaches of rape right before the 2019 Women's World Cup.
But that's probably only the smallest tip of the iceberg. More of these stories are coming. And we need to be ready for them.
Because this time has to be different. We can't let the stories and traumas of players in other countries get brushed off. As players and fans in the United States continue to fight for a league that protects players and allows them to thrive, I hope that we will pay attention to the players around the world who raise their voices and take action to help them as well. Only by standing together can we create a global game that protects everyone.
"As players, we will not be silent anymore, but we need the support of all these institutions to protect the football player globally and create a culture where we can be safe," the Venezuelan statement says. "We know that there are many players from different teams, federations and clubs who have been through things similar to ours. We send our solidarity to all of them. Together we can change the course of women's football."