WE League wants to learn from NWSL harassment scandals

As the National Women’s Soccer League recoils from yet another harassment scandal, the WE League knows it cannot keep tabs on developments in the Pacific.

The 2021 season of America’s top women’s football league ended on Saturday, with the Washington Spirit crowned champions after an overtime victory over the Chicago Red Stars.

Less than 48 hours later, Red Stars head coach Rory Dames resigned after being accused by several players of verbal and emotional abuse – behavior similar to that which led to the former manager’s sacking by Spirit Richie Burke in September.

North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was also fired in September after an explosive report in The Athletic revealed years of allegations of sexual and verbal abuse – a scandal that led to the cancellation of ‘a series of matches and the resignation of League Commissioner Lisa Baird.

League President WE Kikuko Okajima, who resides in Baltimore and has had close relationships with many key figures in American women’s football, insisted on Wednesday that her league was taking steps to ensure the continued safety of her professional players. and young people.

“We cannot think of the NWSL’s problems just as someone else’s problem,” Okajima said after a league board meeting. “We need to act as if something similar could happen to WE League and make sure our compliance measures are in full force.

“The Japan Football Association has a hotline for reporting violence and harassment, and we plan to monitor what the J. League has done and establish our own hotline in the future.”

The J. League has had its own share of harassment cases in recent years, with Tokyo Verdy’s Hideki Nagai – who resigned in September for poor results – and Sagan Tosu’s Kim Myung-hwi being investigated this season only. Current Kyoto Sanga manager Cho Kwi-jae was sacked in the middle of the 2019 campaign after intimidating his Shonan Bellmare players.

Former Nadeshiko Japan guard Ayumi Kaihori, who now works at WE League’s advertising office, said she has seen noticeable improvements in training methods and the way harassment cases are handled. over the past decade.

“Things that were considered normal for the course back then are totally different now, and I think it’s fair to say that the quality of training has improved a lot,” said Kaihori. “I think the players understand that harassment is a social issue, and now they have a better environment in which to voice their concerns.”

The 35-year-old, who saved two key penalties in Japan’s famous victory over the United States in the 2011 Women’s World Cup final, admitted that as a player, she hadn’t gotten over it. not always felt confident enough to report the harassment.

“Back then, when there was power harassment or sexual harassment, I wondered if it was okay to say something,” Kaihori said. “There’s a chance if I say something that I’m left out of the squad, and an uncertainty that makes you think, ‘maybe I’m the only one who thinks this is happening.’

“It is important for the WE League to ensure that the players can express themselves. As a league I think if we can act it will have a positive effect on the kids who play. It is a difficult problem and there are no easy answers, but there is a lot we can do.

Okajima echoed Kaihori’s comments on young players, stressing the need for the league to ensure the well-being of its academy players.

“I think parents are particularly concerned about the way their children are being treated,” Okajima said. “As a league we are going to be mindful of our academies so that if any issues arise we can resolve them.

“The definitions of power harassment and sexual harassment have changed dramatically in recent times. Our players, coaches and team officials need to make sure their understanding is up to date.

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