Vera Pauw says she has encountered abuse ‘everywhere I have coached’

Ireland manager praises women who spoke up about NC Courage coach Paul Riley

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw at FAI HQ in Abbotstown: ‘This is a problem in women’s sport in general. All over the world.’ Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw has encountered abuse and sexual coercion, similar to the accusations that led to the removal of Paul Riley as North Carolina Courage coach, at every stop of her much-travelled career.

Speaking at the announcement of the Ireland squad, which included NC Courage players Denise O'Sullivan and Diane Caldwell, for World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Finland, Pauw commended the interviews given recently by American former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim that highlighted Riley's alleged abuse.

Riley denies the allegations.

“It is so brave that these two players came forward so maybe more will come forward now,” said Pauw. “But I want to highlight that this is a problem in women’s sport in general. All over the world. Not only [in US soccer], not only far away situations, it is has been close.

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“In Ireland I have never experienced anything like that, yet,” Pauw continued. “And I hope it keeps like that. In every other country I have experienced it.

“Everywhere where I have coached.”

The 58-year-old former Netherlands international has managed the Scottish, Dutch, Russian and South African national teams before a single season at Houston Dash in 2018. She resigned her position as Thailand’s technical director 72 hours before the start of the 2019 World Cup.

“Everybody that knows me and has followed me knows that everywhere I go, the safety and wellbeing of the players comes first – to the extreme,” said Pauw. “I’ve taken up fights and everything to protect that, to be on the barricades, to do something about it. I hope that this will be the start of a huge difference in women’s sport.”

Specific details

Pauw declined to reveal specific details about her experiences working in other countries or define the abuse she was referring to, but she did emphasise a feeling of being "safe" while working for the FAI since September 2019.

“At this moment I don’t want to go into that, if you don’t mind. There is an investigation starting, Fifa is involved, so I don’t think it will help if I say things now.

“But you can count on that, if people need me that I will be there.”

“Here in Ireland we are safe. There is a safe environment. You feel that also in the squad. But anywhere there have been players [they] have had these kinds of experiences.”

When Pauw was asked if the abuse of female athletes is assisted by sport and media being male-dominated arenas, or if it is due to an innate fear of consequences for speaking up, she replied: “I think it is a combination of that. In sport what you always get in those situations, the fine line is not there anymore. Does that make sense?

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw at the squad announcement at FAI HQ in Dublin on Friday. ‘Here in Ireland we are safe. There is a safe environment. You feel that also in the squad.’ Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

“So, it is not something like a girl on her bike and then having to experience somebody doing something to her, [but in sporting environments] it is usually something that is growing within a team and players are not aware of it and it is coming out after.

“And only when women have the guts to go into the media that is only when people take them seriously.

“It’s as if only through the media you can change things. So, in that sense, it is very brave.”

Enormous upheaval

O’Sullivan and Caldwell are part of an NC Courage squad that has been through enormous upheaval since Riley was sacked on September 30th following journalist Meg Linehan’s investigation for The Athletic.

“They are in a better space now,” said Pauw of key Irish players ahead of the opening qualifier against Sweden at Tallaght stadium next Thursday. “To be honest, the board of NWSL [US National Women’s Soccer League] is doing everything to support them. That was my concern if they get the support they need because I am far away. But they do get the support they need, the whole team.”

Riley, a 58-year-old originally from Liverpool, denies the allegations made by Farrelly and Shim, that he sexually coerced and verbally abused them, especially between 2011 and 2015 when coaching in Philadelphia, New York and Portland.

The Athletic also reported that the NWSL failed on multiple occasions to act on complaints about Riley. The league’s commissioner Lisa Baird and general counsel Lisa Levine resigned on October 1st, the same day Fifa’s judicial arm opened a formal investigation “due to the severity and seriousness of the allegations being made by players”.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent