Two dozen players from Venezuela’s women’s national football teams have accused a former coach of sexual harassment and abuse.
The players signed a letter making the allegations against Kenneth Zseremeta, who led the women’s national teams at various levels in Venezuela for nine years until he was fired in 2017.
Atletico Madrid star Deyna Castellanos signed and published the joint letter on her social media channels as well as making a personal statement about a scandal that rocked the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League last week.
The 24 Venezuelan players said they’d “decided to break the silence to avoid the situations of abuse and harassment, physical, psychological and sexual.” The letter said one player revealed last year she had been sexually abused by the coach since she was 14. The letter did not identify the footballer.
The players’ letter said Zseremeta repeatedly asked them about their sexuality and sexual orientation, adding there were cases of “physical and psychological abuse during training” sessions.
Other forms of alleged “frequent harassment” included phone calls with invitations, massages and inappropriate gifts.
“Today we understand that these actions had the intent of manipulating us and making us feel guilty. Players of the LGBTI community were constantly questioned for their sexual orientation and the harassment of the heterosexual (players) was constant,” the letter said.
“There were threats and manipulation about telling parents of the players about their sexual orientation if they did not obey or perform as expected.” Zseremeta, who returned to Panama and continued to coach women’s teams, did not immediately respond to the allegations. The Venezuelan football federation did not comment.
Zsemereta took Venezuela to fourth place at the Under-17 World Cup in 2014. That was the first time a Venezuelan national team, male or female, reached the semifinals of a global tournament organized by FIFA.
The Venezuelan football federation fired Zsemereta, who was then the coach of the country’s Under-20 women’s national team, days after several of his players complained about malnourishment during the country’s severe economic crisis.
His dismissal occurred after the team placed third in a five-team competition in Colombia in late 2017. Venezuela was the favourite to lift the title despite the absence of Castellanos. The Venezuelan federation said at the time the decision was due to poor results.
The allegations in Venezuela come in the wake of the scandal in the U.S., where games in the top-flight women’s league were called off on the weekend and the NWSL commissioner quit amid sexual harassment and misconduct allegations involving a longtime coach.
Two former players came forward with allegations of harassment, including sexual coercion, against North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.
Riley was immediately fired by the Courage, and both FIFA and U.S. Soccer opened investigations into why he was able to continue coaching even after the players brought their concerns to the league. Riley told The Athletic the allegations were “completely untrue.”