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Ireland coach Vera Pauw denies NWSL investigation findings

(Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ahead of Saturday’s friendly between Ireland and the USWNT, Ireland head coach Vera Pauw appeared in front of U.S. reporters for the first time since the NWSL-NWSLPA joint investigation was released in December. The report found that Pauw, who was the head coach of the NWSL’s Houston Dash in 2018,  had “shamed players for their weight and attempted to exert excessive control over their eating habits.”

Pauw has staunchly denied the allegations, including in Friday’s media availability.

“These allegations in the report are absolutely ridiculous and false. There is no truth in it, and I know I find a lot of safety in the truth,” said Pauw, who has been head coach of the Irish women since 2019.

“In that report, there’s things said like body shaming, which is absolutely false. If there’s one thing that I don’t do, it is body shaming. There is no scale in my dressing room, there’s no fat percentages taken.”

Pauw also claimed a double standard existed in the investigation. “If I would have been a man, who would even care about something like that?” she said. “People would say, ‘It it is you task to prepare the players to be the best on the pitch. It’s your task as a coach to educate yourself, to study and bring over your knowledge to your players.’”

Body shaming was a major topic in the NWSL-NWSLPA joint investigation and Pauw was not the only person accused. Other former NWSL coaches, including Farid Benstiti, Paul Riley, Craig Harrington, Rory Dames, and Amanda Cromwell were also alleged to have made comments to players about their weight and/or body image.

Also on Friday, Pauw addressed the impact of being named in the report given her own experience in the sport. Last year, the former Dutch national accused multiple Dutch football officials of sexual abuse.

“Can you imagine what it does to a person? Can you feel what that does to a person? … I have been raped. I have been sexually assaulted,” she said Friday. “I have perceived power abuse, intimidation, isolation, everything, the worst thing that a woman can get in an organization. I am absolutely aware of the power that I have as a coach.”

The NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigation began in October 2021 after a report in The Athletic detailed allegations of sexual harassment and coercion made then-Portland Thorns head coach Paul Riley. Following the release of the joint investigation, the NWSL in January permanently banned four coaches (Riley, Christy Holly, Rory Dames, and Richie Burke), suspended two others (Craig Harrington and Alyse LaHue), and said that six individuals (Pauw, Benstiti, Clarkson, Cromwell, Sam Greene, and Alise Reis) would only be eligible for future employment in the NWSL if they acknowledged responsibility for their wrongdoing, participated in training, and demonstrated a commitment to correcting their behavior.