U.S. Soccer has introduced a Safe Soccer program that will require comprehensive vetting of individuals involved in the sport as the federation continues to address its investigation into coach misconduct in the National Women's Soccer League.
The Safe Soccer program announced Monday aims to overhaul the criteria for participation in the sport from the youth level to the professional leagues. It includes safety training, background checks and annual reviews.
The rollout will start with a pilot program involving U.S. Soccer staff but eventually will reach “all participants in the soccer ecosystem,” the federation announced. The process is expected to take several years.
“We want to make sure that we’re getting bad actors out of our game. But we also want to make sure that we’re incentivizing, motivating and rewarding people who are doing the right thing. In a perfect world, that would get all the way down to, quite frankly, every single adult in our game," said former U.S. national team defender Danielle Slaton, chair of U.S. Soccer's Yates Implementation Committee.
“The challenge is how we do that and I think a lot of that is going to be up to the (participant safety) task force, up to our membership and up to all of us working to pull in the same direction on that front,” Slaton added.
Both U.S. Soccer and the NWSL pledged to implement recommendations made in two scathing reports on systemic abuse and misconduct in the nation's top professional league.
U.S. Soccer published the results of its investigation, led by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, in October. A separate report commissioned by the NWSL and its players union was released in December. Both sides look to both expand and adopt measures to ensure player safety in the new year.
Among the Yates report recommendations was a requirement that teams disclose coach misconduct to the league and USSF to ensure coaches aren’t allowed to move between teams. It also called for timely investigation into allegations of abuse and meaningful vetting of participants.
Mana Shim and fellow former NWSL player Sinead Farrelly came forward in 2021 with allegations of harassment and sexual coercion against longtime league coach Paul Riley. He was among five of the league's 10 coaches who were fired or resigned that year amid claims of misconduct. He denied the allegations.
Shim is now chair of the USSF's Participant Safety Taskforce, which aims to implement safeguarding measures across soccer in the United States. Shannon Boxx, a U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer, also is on the task force.
The implementation committee has proposed amendments to the federation's professional league standards for all affiliated leagues, including Major League Soccer, the NWSL, United Soccer League and others.
The proposed changes include prohibiting the use of nondisclosure and non-disparagement agreements that hide information about abuse allegations.
The standards would also require teams to designate a player safety officer, provide training and education on abuse and misconduct, and produce annual safeguarding reports to U.S. Soccer.
Those changes must be approved by U.S. Soccer's Board of Directors, which meets in March.
The Yates report made 12 overall recommendations “aimed at preventing abuse in the future, holding wrongdoers accountable, enhancing transparency, addressing safety in youth soccer and fostering a professional environment where players are treated with respect.” U.S. Soccer has either implemented or is acting on the recommendations. The federation is also working closely with the NWSL to make reforms.
“As we’ve said from the beginning, this remains of the highest priority for our federation and we are dedicated to cleaning up our sport and making things better," Slaton said. "And the committee is eager to continue to grow and evolve and support the task force that’s going to be led by Mana Shim going forward, that already has been and will continue to be, because we truly remain dedicated to this work. This is not a one and done thing. This is not a committee thing that we’re putting a stamp on and saying we are finished with this work. We know there is a lot of work still that remains to be done."