Soccer-SafeSport responds to US players complaints, says goals aligned on abuse

By Amy Tennery

AUCKLAND (Reuters) – The U.S. Center for SafeSport responded to criticism from United States national soccer team players on Friday, insisting their goals are aligned on preventing abuse in sport as the athletes called on Congress to change how the organisation operates.

U.S. players, including all 23 who are kicking off their Women’s World Cup campaign in New Zealand on Saturday, said this week that SafeSport is failing to handle abuse claims adequately after revelations of widespread misconduct in the women’s game.

SafeSport, an independent non-profit organisation, was formed and directed by Congress to respond to and prevent abuse within the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement.

“(Our) mission is consistent with the priorities voiced in your July 19, 2023 letter to Congress. Ending abuse and misconduct in sport and keeping athletes safe is all of our priority,” SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colon said in a letter directed to the U.S. Soccer federation athletes.

Among the players’ concerns were SafeSport’s so-called “exclusive jurisdiction,” which they said leaves their national governing body (NGB), U.S. Soccer, without the ability to pursue their own investigations against abusers.

SafeSport said a “truly independent entity” was necessary to tackle abuse and misconduct.

“Congress underscored the importance of the Center’s work by furthering its independence and ensuring it had adequate resources to do the work that they determined NGBs were incapable of doing,” Colon said in the letter.

Colon added that the center’s arbitration process, which the players said could be “damaging and retraumatizing,” was a necessary part of due process rights.

“We agree the process should be fair and fact-based and are deeply invested in preventing further trauma that can stem from participating in the arbitration process,” said Colon.

U.S. Soccer did not have an immediate response.

The U.S. women’s national team kick off their bid for an unprecedented third consecutive title on Saturday, as they open against Group E opponent Vietnam.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in Auckland; Editing by Lincoln Feast)