National Post (Latest Edition)

Australia, Venezuela stars allege sexual abuse

Elite women’s soccer players come forward

- Rachel Pannett and ana Vanessa herrero

SYDNEY • Elite Venezuelan and Australian women’s soccer players have gone public with allegation­s of harassment and sexual abuse, as the sport’s latest #Metoo reckoning goes global, triggered by revelation­s from the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League.

Twenty-four of Venezuela’s top soccer players, including Atletico Madrid forward Deyna Castellano­s, condemned what they said was years of “abuse and harassment, physical, psychologi­cal and sexual” by former coach Kenneth Zseremeta.

In a statement posted on social media by Castellano­s on Tuesday, the players claimed the abuse took place from 2013 to at least 2017 — when Zseremeta was fired as coach of the under-20 women’s national team, with Venezuelan soccer authoritie­s citing the squad’s poor performanc­e. At the time, Zseremeta reportedly claimed that his players were suffering from malnutriti­on in the crisiswrac­ked nation.

The statement said that a Venezuelan player in 2020 told teammates that she had been sexually abused since age 14 by the coach. They did not identify the victim.

Venezuela’s Attorney General announced that a prosecutor had been assigned to investigat­e. Efforts to reach Zseremeta via phone were unsuccessf­ul. Emails to a soccer agency that listed him as a client as recently as Monday were not returned and the Venezuelan Football Federation didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Panama-born Zseremeta was a successful coach for the Venezuelan national team for almost a decade. He has also coached the Panama national women’s team.

Following the Venezuelan player’s account, other teammates also alleged abusive behaviour by Zseremeta. These included requests for massages, questions the players felt were abnormal and other inappropri­ate behaviour, the statement said.

LGBTQ players were constantly questioned by Zseremeta about their sexual orientatio­n, the players alleged.

“There were threats and manipulati­ons to tell the parents of the players about their sexual orientatio­n,” the players wrote. “We never felt we had the tools to speak and get support, because the influence and power of this person in our lives was authoritar­ian.”

The Venezuelan players’ statement came shortly after reporting from the Athletic that an NWSL coach, North Carolina Courage’s Paul Riley, had sexually coerced multiple players, as well as reporting by The Washington Post about verbal and emotional abuse by the former coach of the Washington Spirit. NWSL commission­er Lisa Baird resigned last week after claims the league did not address allegation­s of sexual coercion, and Spirit controllin­g owner Steve Baldwin stepped down Tuesday.

In Australia, soccer authoritie­s have urged players to make formal complaints after one of the country’s top internatio­nal goal scorers alleged she had been groomed and harassed by senior players early in her career.

Lisa De Vanna, who played 150 games for her country, told Australia’s Daily Telegraph that she experience­d abuse and bullying when she joined a national women’s squad at age 17. She also detailed a sexual act performed on her in 2001.

“I fought my way off the floor kicking and screaming. They thought it was funny,” she said. “Have I been sexually harassed? Yes. Have I been bullied? Yes. Ostracized? Yes. Have I seen things that have made me uncomforta­ble? Yes.”

A spokesman for Football Australia said the organizati­on had met with De Vanna. “Australian football takes a zero-tolerance approach to any conduct which breaches the standards and values expected of people involved in the game,” he said, encouragin­g De Vanna and any other players and staff to “formally bring forward any claims.”

 ?? TWITTER.COM ?? Players from Venezuela’s women’s national teams have
accused ex-coach Kenneth Zseremeta of sexual abuse.
TWITTER.COM Players from Venezuela’s women’s national teams have accused ex-coach Kenneth Zseremeta of sexual abuse.

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