Vera Pauw on abuse of women in sport: ‘It’s all over the world’

Ireland manager reveals career working in the background to protect players

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw at the WNT squad announcement in  FAI HQ, Dublin on Friday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw at the WNT squad announcement in FAI HQ, Dublin on Friday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Vera Pauw states from the outset that she’s no whistleblower. Certainly not in a standard press conference to announce the Republic of Ireland squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

But on Friday afternoon in leafy Abbotstown, the Dutch strategist revealed a managerial career “fighting on the barricades” against the abuse female athletes have suffered at the hands of male coaches and administrators.

Not so much fighting on the barricades, she quickly stated, but quietly helping players in the background.

“I don’t want to minimise [the US soccer revelations],” said Pauw when asked about the wellbeing of Ireland’s North Carolina Courage players Denise O’Sullivan and Diane Caldwell. “It is all over the world and it happens on a daily basis.

“That’s the only thing I want to say about it because there are people who want to change things,” said Pauw, referring to an ongoing Fifa investigation, before patiently answering questions about a series of allegations, first revealed by The Athletic, against several people in authority inside American soccer’s professional league, all of which entered the public domain when NC Courage sacked their manager Paul Riley.

Riley denies allegations of sexual coercion.

“I play my part in all that,” Pauw said of her “extreme” protection of players she has coached. “I always played my part and I never came out with that to protect people but it is something that is going on for too long.

“I am happy I am not the only one anymore. There are a lot of people of course standing on the barricades. I have always chosen to do it behind the scenes but, trust me, it has happened all over the world. Everywhere where I have coached.”

This demands a brief analysis of the 58-year-old’s track record, as she implies undefined misconduct in Scotland, Holland, Russia, South Africa, Houston and Thailand over a 21-year period.

Married

Pauw won 89 caps for Holland between 1984 and 1998, all but three years playing under manager Bert van Lingen, a man 17 years her senior who she married a decade later – and they’re still together.

“Very cliche, he was my coach in the past but he stopped coaching as we fell in love,” said Pauw at her unveiling as Ireland manager in September 2019.

Van Lingen’s influence on Pauw’s coaching career is important as her first foray into management, with the Scotland national team, happened when he was Dick Advocaat’s assistant manager at Glasgow Rangers.

Ruud Dokter, the FAI high performance director, who made Pauw the Holland captain towards the end of her playing career, reunited with her when Colin Bell left Ireland for Huddersfield Town.

“It was actually my husband who convinced me to do it,” she previously revealed.

Before the current role, a relatively successful six years as Dutch head coach ended in 2010 when she claimed to have been “bullied and framed” by the KNVB, the Royal Dutch Football Association.

In 2011 Pauw went with Van Lingen to Russia, where he was again assistant to Advocaat, working as technical director and eventually head coach of the national women’s side. Two seasons in South Africa, 10 months at the Houston Dash and a brief stint in Thailand as technical director certainly gives her a helicopter view of how women are treated by modern soccer authorities.

Mitigate

“I think the whole ‘MeToo’ movement as a whole will help us,” she replied to a suggestion that the rise in popularity of women’s football could mitigate some of the abuse. “I want to highlight it, it is not only sport, it is not only the USA – I think we are coming out of an era in which abuse of women was put under the carpet with incidents [explained away] with ‘oh I was only joking’ [and] ‘oh I felt that she wanted it’.

“I think we are getting out of that era and there will be, like, a move to the complete other side, and eventually we will get to a better space with each other because we also have to be careful that we do have an open relationship in which people are working together and people are pulling each other out of their comfort zones to become better and perform.

“What I can say of [the Irish squad], of course we will talk about it this week at the start. But the aim is to get players blossoming; the aim is to get players performing, to be proud of who they are and to shine into the future.

“The players shine and they have a future in which they can be proud of what they are doing. That’s what I am here for, that is my approach, that there is openness to express their feelings, there is openness for whatever their needs are.

“Does that make sense?” Pauw wondered. “That is my way of working always.”

Ireland squad in a healthy state

The Ireland squad is in a relatively healthy state ahead of the opening World Cup qualifiers at home to Sweden on Thursday in Tallaght stadium – a 4,000 sellout – and Finland in Helsinki the following Tuesday.

Eileen Gleeson will remain as assistant coach to Vera Pauw for both matches before taking up the manager’s job at Glasgow City.

“Gutted to lose her, respect her so much,” said Pauw. “We can say everything we want to each other without losing each other. To be in that space is fantastic.

“But on the other hand, this is such a great opportunity for her. I only want to celebrate it. We only support it if you get a chance like that. She deserves it like no one else.”

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND WNT SQUAD
Goalkeepers:
Grace Moloney (Reading), Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Eve Badana (DLR Waves), Amanda Budden (Shelbourne).

Defenders: Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Claire Walsh (Glasgow City), Diane Caldwell (North Carolina Courage), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Niamh Fahey (Liverpool), Savannah McCarthy (Galway WFC), Éabha O’Mahony (Boston College), Áine O’Gorman (Peamount United).

Midfielders: Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Megan Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jamie Finn (Birmingham City), Niamh Farrelly (Glasgow City), Ciara Grant (Shelbourne), Aoibheann Clancy (Wexford Youths), Jessica Ziu (Shelbourne), Katie McCabe (Arsenal).

Forwards: Amber Barrett (FC Koln), Rianna Jarrett (London City Lionesses), Heather Payne (Florida State University), Leanne Kiernan (Liverpool), Kyra Carusa (HB Hoge), Saoirse Noonan (Shelbourne), Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City).

2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Qualifier - Group A
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND V SWEDEN

Thursday October 21st
Tallaght Stadium
KO 19:00
Live on RTÉ2

2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Qualifier - Group A
FINLAND V REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

Tuesday October 26th
Olympic Stadium, Helsinki
KO 18:15 (16:15 Irish Time)
Live on RTÉ2

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