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NWSL abuse allegations: U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone 'heartbroken'

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Washington Spirit, Gotham FC come together in protest during NWSL match (1:47)

Members of the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC link arms in protest in the middle of their NWSL match. (1:47)

U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone has said she is "heartbroken" over allegations of abusive behaviour and sexual misconduct in the National Women's Soccer League and added that her organisation is committed to investigating the "abhorrent conduct."

North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley has been fired following allegations of sexual coercion and bullying, while Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke was banned from the NWSL after he was found guilty of verbal and emotional abuse towards players.

In an open letter to fans, Parlow Cone said former U.S. Attorney and Deputy Attorney General of the United States Sally Yates -- who had been appointed by the USSF to lead an independent investigation in light of the allegations revealed by the Athletic -- had been given "full autonomy, access and the necessary resources" to conduct a thorough examination of events.

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"Like all of you, I am saddened and angered by these reports. As a former player and a current youth soccer coach, there is no responsibility that I take more seriously than ensuring soccer players in this country are safe and respected both on and off the field. I cannot overstate how heartbroken I am for anyone who has ever been a victim of abusive behavior or sexual misconduct in our sport," Parlow Cone said.

"When I took on the role of president of U.S. Soccer in 2020, our new leadership team understood that despite the challenges we faced, at its core, our mission is to create a safe space for athletes who love this sport to learn, grow and compete. That's why U.S. Soccer is committed to stepping up to lead the change on this issue.

"That means doing everything we can to fully investigate the abhorrent conduct reported and taking a hard look at the entire soccer ecosystem in this country -- including ourselves -- to gain a full understanding of the systemic changes that should be made to prevent anything like this from happening again."

The investigation by the USSF is one of three ongoing probes with the NWSL and FIFA also conducting their own.

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird and general counsel Lisa Levine both resigned after USWNT forward Alex Morgan tweeted a series of emails which showed Baird had failed to act when a player had requested she reopen a 2015 investigation into Riley.

Players in the NWSL paused games in the sixth minute of matches and stood arm-in-arm to mark six years since the league failed to take action on Riley. Several teams in England also showed solidarity with players by observing a minute's silence before their games.

"We have a responsibility and an opportunity before us. We must set things right for the good of athletes, teams, fans and our entire soccer community -- especially the youngest players involved in our sport. Looking forward, I have the utmost confidence that the future of this sport will be brighter than ever if we all come together to build a positive, vibrant and respectful culture that can be trusted by all of our players, at every level," Parlow Cone added.

"The past few weeks have been incredibly painful, and I have no doubt the months ahead will also be challenging as we continue to reconcile and reflect on what took place. I want to once again commit to you that U.S. Soccer is approaching this process with humility, transparency and a desire for accountability and meaningful change."