FAI supports Vera Pauw’s denial of fresh allegations she was ‘physically aggressive’

Republic of Ireland manager says employee of Houston Dash threatened to ‘shoot me in the head’

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw has denied fresh allegations that she was “physically aggressive” to Houston Dash players in 2018.

Four former Dash players and three staff have spoken anonymously to The Athletic about the 60-year-old’s one season as head coach in America’s professional soccer league.

Last December, Pauw was banned from coaching in the NWSL, following a report detailing systematic abuse in US soccer. She denies all charges, even working with Iowa-based discrimination lawyer Tom Newkirk to negotiate a settlement with the NWSL so Pauw can avoid having to acknowledge misconduct or commit to corrective measures. This process is ongoing.

In December, Football Association of Ireland chairman Roy Barrett came out in support of Pauw, branding the NWSL sanctions as “unfair”.

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Despite the new accusations, the FAI said they remain “fully focused on supporting Vera and the women’s team as they continue their preparation for their first World Cup in Australia and we will not be making any further comment on this article.”

The association did not respond to a query about whether the Ireland manager’s contract negotiations have been suspended.

The article has prompted Pauw to deny, for a second time, allegations of “abusive and inappropriate” treatment of Dash players. She responded by submitting 12 statements of support from players and assistant coaches during her time as manager of Scotland, South Africa, The Netherlands and in Houston.

In April, Pauw told The Athletic: “When do you start thinking of the double standards and not only protecting players from coaches but also coaches from players?”

She claims that her husband, the former Netherlands women’s coach Bert van Lingen, visited her in Houston in 2018 and insisted she returned home as the environment was so damaging to Pauw’s mental health. She refused, wanting to finish out the season, only to allegedly receive a death threat from a member of the Dash staff who was angered by her moving a training session from morning to evening.

“He threatened to shoot me in the head as I was taking his beer night away,” said Pauw, who reported the incident to the Houston police and received protection.

The former Netherlands player and manager also rejected witness statements in The Athletic article that she turned “physically aggressive” in the team environment.

In the one incident, at half-time of a NWSL game, several people saw Pauw grab a “staffer” around the “neck or collarbone area” and shove her away.

“I said ‘stop, sit down, calm down everybody’,” Pauw responded. “That is my job. I never pulled the collar. I maybe put a hand on the shoulder – could be. It is absolutely untrue to say it in this way.”

Two witnesses state that at half-time in another match, Pauw laid hands on a fellow coach for dispensing advice to a player. The Athletic reports that the assistant remembers her saying: “‘No one does any coaching in this locker room except for me.’”

Pauw stated: “I’ve never been physically aggressive in my whole life to anyone, even as a kid.”

A third incident, according to a former Houston player after a game against Sky Blue, has Pauw grabbing a player “by the arm aggressively and yanked her back” when her instructions were not being followed. But Pauw described this interaction as a “friendly hand on the shoulder.”

Newkirk, Pauw’s US attorney, says that The Athletic article has reported “the feelings of the athletes, and used those feelings to justify a story”.

“They do not dig into the allegations to expose that they are just that, feelings without any specific facts to suggest the coach was doing anything over the line,” Newkirk told The Irish Times. “Do a search of articles about male sports. Do you see any of them reporting how the males were ‘scared,’ ‘miserable’ or ‘fearful’? Does anyone think Vera Pauw is tougher on athletes or more direct than most of the male coaches in football? Perhaps this article believes that women should be coached differently or more ‘gently’ than men? I believe that women are equal and should be coached and expected to coach equally to men.

“Neither Vera nor I are using gender to defend bad behaviour,” he added. “Vera has been an advocate for the rights of women in sport for her entire career. We’re asking that someone do a real investigation. One that does not rely on feelings or gendered evaluations of women.”

Accusations of weight shaming while Houston coach have already been reported with Pauw’s explanation, that she did nothing wrong, fully accepted by the FAI. Twelve months after leaving the Dash she was appointed Ireland manager, in September 2019.

Pauw does not deny another charge of seeking “complete control” over the Dash squad. “How is this an allegation of abuse?” she asked. “I will control the training loads of the players. It’s only a woman that can be criticised like that. Do you think Pep Guardiola would get this on his plate?”

On arrival in Ireland, Pauw fell out with teenage international Tyler Toland which resulted in the Dutch woman saying Toland’s father Maurice subjected her to “harassment and intimidation”.

Mr Toland refutes this allegation and Pauw has not publicly specified what Toland did wrong, but she told The Athletic: “Manchester [City] did not play her, Glasgow City hardly played her. Celtic hardly played her. Levante hardly plays her. The big games she’s not in. It’s just a football decision. There’s nothing else.”

France come to Tallaght on Thursday for the penultimate Women’s World Cup warm-up match. Ireland face Australia in the tournament opener on July 20th in Sydney.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent