‘Lean on each other’ – how USWNT players are dealing with abuse report | Soccer

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Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s free women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just pop your email in below:

This past week, the US Women’s National Team took on a challenging international window amid the fallout of Sally Yates’s 172-page report investigating “abusive behavior and sexual misconduct” in the NWSL. Released on 3 October, the report detailed abuse of various nature, at multiple clubs, and illustrated issues more pervasive than even the athletes involved had realised.

Among the findings, Yates’s year-long independent investigation stated that “abuse in the NWSL was systemic. Verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct occurred at multiple teams, was perpetrated by several coaches and affected many players.”

The heavily decorated, intrinsically involved USWNT – many of whom performed for clubs implicated in the findings – waded through the report while overseas, preparing to meet two dominant sides in England and Spain. The experience was clearly challenging, even for a team accustomed to spotlight and controversy. I was with the US team in Europe and Crystal Dunn told us in London: “I’d be lying if I said we were doing well.”

Despite the circumstances the team celebrated the opportunity to play before a sell-out crowd at Wembley and test their World Cup readiness against two of the best sides in the world. In between the celebrations and the tumult, the players met with media, emanating a resolute poise, considering not just the past and its revelations but the future and its mandates. This is what some of the key players had to say.

Supporters hold a banner in support of players during the USA’s game against England.
Supporters hold a banner in support of players during the USA’s game against England. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Megan Rapinoe calls for club leadership to step down: On the afternoon before the big match at Wembley, Rapinoe spoke with reporters inside the stadium to share her thoughts, including that some owners should go. “I don’t think Merritt Paulson is fit to be the owner of that team [Portland] and I don’t think Arnim [Whisler] is fit to be the owner of Chicago. We need those people to be gone,” she said.

Rapinoe elaborated that there were people across NWSL – and US Soccer – clinging to positions of responsibility that they were not filling. Rapinoe emphasised, as specified in the report, that complaints were made annually and ignored, no matter their accrual: “Year after year after year after year. Every single year someone said something about multiple coaches in the league and about multiple different environments. If year after year after year you cannot perform your duties … I know I wouldn’t be in my position if I couldn’t fulfil my duties years after year, much less practice after practice.”

Lindsey Horan says global accountability is needed: Horan also spoke to the media in London and, mirroring the opinion of her peers, took the moment to consider the global nature of abuse in women’s sport. Horan expressed her hope that the NWSL-focused investigation would lead to a world-wide reckoning: “It’s not just the NWSL. This is women’s football in general. It’s women in general. We have these problems all over the world.”

Horan is now at the global juggernaut Lyon and has played for fellow French side PSG in the past, speaking publicly about difficulty with weight-shaming while there. “It’s not done,” said Horan. “This is all over the world and being a player in Europe right now I know that.” Horan also stated that multiple organisations need be involved in routing out verbal or sexual abuse, including Fifa: “I think you can name multiple organisations but obviously Fifa is at the forefront of football in general.”

Lindsey Horan goes in for a header during the USA’s defeat to Spain.
Lindsey Horan goes in for a header during the USA’s defeat to Spain. Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Crystal Dunn wants players to feel joy and accomplishment: Dunn is one among many USWNT players who have featured prominently for clubs and individuals heavily implicated in the Yates report. Dunn said that while it was a difficult and painful reckoning, she will encourage her teammates to take pride in their accomplishments performing for each other, instead of a crest and club that have let them down.

“I think as players we all feel that we can be proud of our accomplishments, we can be proud of ourselves for where we are in playing this game and even though it is not going to be easy to do so, I would encourage us all to really just take a second and remember that what we do on the field is incredible. Unfortunately, the joy is sometimes taken away and I just really would encourage all my teammates to try to find it in every step of the way, any place that you can find it. Because the sport that we get to play, we truly love and as hard as it is to move forward and wear a jersey that you think represents so much devastation and atrocity and trauma, I think leaning on each other is the way that we are able to get through it.”

Talking points

Top of the world: England’s Lionesses added another achievement to an incredible year, defeating the reigning world champions USA 2-1 at Wembley on Friday evening. The highly-anticipated friendly sold out within an hour of ticket availability, and played before an announced crowd of 76,893.

Georgia Stanway celebrates after scoring England’s winner against the USA from the penalty spot.
Georgia Stanway celebrates after scoring England’s winner from the penalty spot. Photograph: Harriet Lander/The FA/Getty Images

Irish joy: The Republic of Ireland beat Scotland 1-0 in Glasgow to qualify for their first ever World Cup, with the expanded tournament in Australia and New Zealand helping to allow rapidly progressing sides like theirs to qualify. Switzerland beat Wales to reach the tournament too, while the draw for the playoff tournament to finalise the full list of participants takes place on Friday.

Katie McCabe leads the Irish celebrations after their win in Scotland.
Katie McCabe leads the Irish celebrations. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Under-17 World Cup under way: The tournament started this week in India with the hosts facing the US in the first game. They lost 8-0 but will hope to fare better against Nigeria on Friday.

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