NWSL postpones weekend matches, FIFA launches investigation after Paul Riley scandal

·3 min read

Content warning: This story contains depictions of sexual misconduct and coercion.

NWSL games will not go on as planned over the weekend. The league postponed games to "give everyone some space to reflect" after North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was fired due to allegations of sexual coercion.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird released a statement Friday announcing the news. Baird took responsibility for her role and said the pause will "be the first step" in transforming the culture around the game. 

“This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling. Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect. Business as usual isn’t our concern right now. Our entire league has a great deal of healing to do, and our players deserve so much better. We have made this decision in collaboration with our players association and this pause will be the first step as we collectively work to transform the culture of this league, something that is long overdue.”

The NWSL announced Friday night that it had accepted Baird's resignation. The league is now looking for a new commissioner.

A number of players accused Riley of sexual coercion, which dates back to at least 2010. Riley reportedly made a player sit on his lap during a car ride and coerced that player into having sex. He also reportedly forced two players to kiss to prevent their team from running extra laps.

Riley was fired by the North Carolina Courage after those allegations became public Thursday.

Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe criticize Lisa Baird over comments

Following the news, Baird released a statement saying she was "shocked" by the allegations. 

USWNT star Alex Morgan called out Baird, sharing emails that reportedly showed an email exchange between Baird and one of the players who accused Riley of sexual coercion. Baird reportedly responded to those emails saying the incident was investigated in 2015, when it was reported, but said she couldn't share details of that investigation.

Megan Rapinoe also took Baird to task, calling her response "beyond disrespectful."

Rumors of games being postponed broke before NWSL announcement

Rumors that the league would postpone games emerged before Baird's announcement. The Orlando Pride reportedly did not travel to Chicago ahead of their Saturday match. Pride players went to the airport, but found out about the postponement before they boarded the plane, according to Julia Poe of the Orlando Sentinel. 

It's unclear when — or if — the NWSL will try to reschedule the games that were supposed to be played over the weekend. 

FIFA, US Soccer launch investigation

FIFA’s judicial bodies launched an investigation into the allegations against Riley on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Soccer’s governing body said it is “deeply concerned” over the allegations.

“Due to the severity and seriousness of the allegations being made by players, we can confirm that FIFA’s judicial bodies are actively looking into the matter and have opened a preliminary investigation,” FIFA said in a statement, via The Associated Press. “As part of this, FIFA will be reaching out to the respective parties, including US Soccer and NWSL, for further information about the various safeguarding concerns and allegations of abuse that have been raised.”

U.S. Soccer issued a similar statement on Friday afternoon, saying it had also launched an independent investigation.

NWSL logo.
The NWSL will not play games as scheduled over the weekend. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)