Vera Pauw has offered an impassioned defence of her reputation in the aftermath of her inclusion in an investigation into “misconduct” directed towards players in the United States’ National Women’s Soccer League. The Republic of Ireland manager was making her first public comments on the matter at the Football Association of Ireland headquarters at Abbotstown on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Pauw had issued a statement in response to the allegations, which included charges of “weight-shaming” players and attempting to “exert control over every aspect of [their] lives”, the Dutch woman refuting “every allegation made against me from my time at Houston Dash”.
“To suggest I would body shame any human being, footballer or not, is an insult to my personal values and to my behaviour as a coach and I cannot allow this claim to go unchallenged,” she said.
“I’m angry, I’m really angry,” she said when she appeared at her press conference in the afternoon, insisting that she had done no wrong and that she had “nothing to hide”.
She outlined her dealings with a four-person investigative team, disputing their claim that she had failed to co-operate with them. Pauw said that she had agreed to do a video call with the team, after they requested one by email, unaware of what allegations might be put to her. But when they refused her permission to record the call, she opted instead to provide them with a 13-page written statement.
Quite why they would not allow her to record the call, when she was alone and there were four of them, is a curiosity. Pauw insisted she was legally entitled to do so, and was at a loss to understand why they objected.
“There’s a special anger in me, that they say I did not co-operate. I was the one to say, ‘I want you to look me in the face’. I was the one to say, ‘I want to be honest and open. You can ask me anything’.
“They said ‘you don’t trust us and you don’t trust our objectivity’, so we ended the call. They didn’t even say goodbye. And I was sitting there, ‘what’s happening here?’ I tried to phone, email, no reaction.”
Pauw didn’t rule out taking legal action over the claims made against her in the investigation, but conceded that would be a challenge. “If you talk about court cases; who? The investigators, the players, the NWSL? I have no idea.”
This is the players’ magic year. This is completely separate. This is going back to 2018. It has nothing to do with those fantastic tigers of Ireland, really nothing to do with them. So I hope that everybody realises that— Vera Pauw
Pauw met FAI chief executive officer Jonathan Hill late on Thursday night to discuss the report, and, she said, he asked her if she could recall any incident that could be classed as misconduct. She could not, Hill concluding “the way you have been treated is just unfair”.
Asked if she questioned herself at all in her handling of Houston Dash players, in light of their complaints – although the report does not reveal how many made allegations against her – Pauw said “of course I doubt myself, I doubt myself every single day – but I do not recall any moment of disrespectful behaviour”.
She insisted that she has never once “weight-shamed” a player, nor ever commented on their diet or appearance; that all her coaching career she has left dietary issues to “the medical team”. She has, she said, encouraged players to avoid dieting – “I know too much of the harm it can cost, because I’ve experienced the mistakes of that being a player myself” – and weightlifting, which, she believes, is potentially harmful for a footballer.
[ Vera Pauw’s people skills may need improving but she doesn’t belong with the worst of humanity ]
She admitted her time at Houston came to an unhappy end, despite stating at the time that she was leaving after one season because she wanted to be with her husband back in the Netherlands. She accused the Houston players of “disrespect”, including “swearing, cursing and shouting” towards referees, opponents, staff, as well as herself, behaviour, she said, she could not tolerate. She was, she said, relieved, she “got out [of Houston] without any bigger harm”.
Asked if she felt this episode has cast a shadow over her and her Irish team’s achievements in 2022, she responded with an emphatic “no”.
“Because I don’t feel any guilt in this, I don’t feel it has anything to do with that fantastic performance that we have done with Ireland. We have made the impossible possible. This is the players’ magic year. This is completely separate. This is going back to 2018. It has nothing to do with those fantastic tigers of Ireland, really nothing to do with them. So I hope that everybody realises that.”
In a show of support, which she thanked him for, FAI president Gerry McAnaney attended the press conference, sitting to the side, Pauw again expressing her gratitude to the association for “not jumping to conclusions”.
“I feel 100 per cent support from them.”
Pauw has, she said, also received supportive messages from members of her Irish squad, as well as receiving the backing of captain Katie McCabe in a conversation on Thursday.
“If there was anything I could think of that I did wrong, I would openly apologise, but I have no idea where this is coming from. When you have experienced abuse of power and intimidation over the last 30 years, and then you are accused of something that is completely the opposite to who you are ...” Her voice drifted off, and she just shook her head.