Venezuela players follow NWSL's lead and come forth with allegations of sexual abuse by coach

Deyna Castellanos Atletico Madrid Women 2020-21Getty

Twenty-four Venezuelan women's footballers have signed a statement which accuses former youth national team coach Kenneth Zseremeta of sexual, physical and psychological abuse over a four-year period.

The statement, shared by Deyna Castellanos on Tuesday, the Atletico Madrid star who is one of the country's most recognisable sports stars, follows a number of allegations that have emerged in the past week, starting with those aimed at coach Paul Riley.

In a report on the Athletic, Sinead Farrelly accused the ex-NWSL coach of sexual coercion while Mana Shim also detailed inappropriate behaviour, which included Riley making the pair kiss in exchange for a team not having to do a particular training exercise. Riley has dubbed the allegations "completely untrue", but was fired by the North Carolina Courage after they came to light.

What are the allegations against Zseremeta?

"We, the players of the Venezuelan national team, have decided to break our silence to prevent the situations of abuse and harassment, physical, psychological and sexual caused by football coach Kenneth Zseremeta from taking more victims in women's football and in the world," the statement released on Tuesday reads.

"From 2013 to 2017, numerous incidents arose around coach Zseremeta, the most common of which were physical and psychological abuse during training. Many of us continue with trauma and mental injuries that accompany us in our daily lives.

"Although it sounds crazy to us, it was normal for our coach to give his opinions, comments and ask us about our sexuality and intimacy, even when we were minors. Many of these situations were supported by some members of the coaching staff. Today, we understand that these actions were intended to manipulate us and make us feel guilty.

"Female players from the LGBTI community were constantly questioned about their sexual orientation and harassment towards heterosexual female players was constant. There were threats and manipulations to tell the parents of the players about their sexual orientation if they did not have discipline or perform well. Sexual advances were day-to-day topics, as were comments about the physical attractiveness of many of our players.

"Last year (2020) one of our teammates confessed to us that she had been sexually abused since she was 14 years old (2014) by coach Kenneth Zseremeta. This abuse lasted until he was fired. His accomplice in all this is Williams Pino.

"This has been news that has been very difficult to assimilate for all of us, to the extent that many of us feel guilty for having been so close to all this and not having realized something so serious and punishable.  At the same time, the confession did not surprise us because that was the kind of atmosphere that the coach cultivated every day.

"As a group, we have looked for different solutions to be able to make a legal claim, but for different reasons, it has been very difficult for us. For that reason we have decided to omit the name of our teammate, to respect her privacy and especially the legal framework of this complaint. As a result of this confession, different colleagues have expressed experiences of harassment, both by telephone and inappropriate questions and invitations, bribes to stay within the national team, gifts out of context, massages and different situations that were definitely not normal and that we did not understand.

"We ask all relevant people such as: FIFA, Confederations, Federations, and Leagues not to allow this "coach" to continue having a place in women's football."

The Venezuelan Football Federation shared a message of support shortly afterwards, but has made no communication about any investigations into the allegations.

More claims of abuse in Australia

In light of the reports of sexual abuse in the United States, former Australia forward Lisa De Vanna has also spoke out. In a story by Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper, she alleges that she was subject to sexual harassment, indecent assault, grooming and bullying from senior players.

"I was pulled down from behind and dry-humped by a few of my teammates," she said, describing one incident. "I fought my way off the floor kicking and screaming. They thought it was funny."

Football Australia has responded, saying that it takes a “zero-tolerance approach to any conduct which breaches the standards and values expected of people involved in the game”.

“We have no knowledge of what steps, if any ,our predecessor organisation, Soccer Australia, undertook in 2001,” it said. “In the event that Lisa chooses to lodge a formal complaint through the appropriate channels, we will be in a position to investigate and, if appropriate, act accordingly."

Football Australia is also working with Sport Integrity Australia to create a process for independently investigating allegations of historical abuse. It says details of this process are "expected to be available in the coming weeks".

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