OPINION

Football Australia need more transparency moving forward in wake of Lisa De Vanna, Rhali Dobson allegations

Former Matilda great Lisa De Vanna has aired allegations of sexual harassment, indecent assault and bullying from senior players throughout her career. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Former Matilda great Lisa De Vanna has aired allegations of sexual harassment, indecent assault and bullying from senior players throughout her career. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Deep cultural change never emerges through silence, and Australia's female soccer community is about to sit down for a chat it seems.

Allegations raised by Lisa De Vanna and Rhali Dobson, reported in the Daily Telegraph this week, have allowed other former players in Australia to voice their truths and put a spotlight on issues in the code.

Their allegations were triggered by a #MeToo movement underway in the United State's NWSL. The NWSL and clubs neglected to protect their players, despite allegations being voiced and known, and players want change. It seems to be a similar thing fuelling the allegations in Australia - a push for change.

De Vanna alleged she was subjected to sexual harassment, indecent assault and bullying from senior players throughout her career. Dobson also claimed she had been a target of predatory behaviour in her A-League Women's career.

The similar theme in the NWSL and Australia is the culture fuelling it - silence, a lack of transparency, acceptance of the culture and protecting those at fault.

Fans of the game have been grappling with the allegations and trying to make sense of it all by pointing to De Vanna's dismissal from the Matildas as her motive, why she went to the media and not comprehending why she waited so long to voice them.

Instead of asking themselves, why did she stay silent for so long, what stopped her from coming forward earlier, why did she feel her only option was the media, and considering all the powers at play that silence people.

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In only a matter of days the pair's allegations have triggered change, with more players coming forward to explain failings in the game. However, the biggest change was Football Australia launching an independent complaint process with Sport Integrity Australia for its national teams and the A-Leagues for former and current players/staff to report allegations.

Transparency needs to be the next thing FA, and NWSL, address as this holds people to account, builds trust and forces change.

The lack of transparency in the dismissal of Alen Stajcic from the Matildas head job, only months out from the 2019 World Cup, is a prime example of the secrecy the code tries to get away with.

An internal review into the culture of the national women's football team ended in him being dismissed in January 2019, and only later in May stating the review found the side "would benefit from a new coach" in the World Cup.

The report identified a culture of fear and unacceptable levels of stress among the players, showcasing something needed to change and so far FA says 75 per cent of the 11 recommendations have been implemented.

Questions over Stajcic's dismissal ran rampant for those five months - and the review's report has never been fully disclosed - sending the rumour mill into over drive rather than explaining the decision.

Stajcic has always denied any wrongdoing, and Matildas players appeared to be in shock at news of his dismissal. So the question remains, why did FA not disclose the report and lay out the reasonings for firing him clearly? If they had disclosed why, it could have allowed everyone to move on and not put a stain on Stajcic's coaching career.

The lack of transparency, in this case, did not lead to dire consequences for others, only Stajcic. However, it can and this was highlighted in the US this week.

The NWSL Portland Thorns did not renew their coach Paul Riley's contract in 2015 and chose to not specifically disclose why they had let him go publicly. Reports put it down to the side's finish in the competition, but it has transpired to be because of allegations of sexual harassment by players.

Riley, who denies the allegations but has had more allegations lodged against him by former players since, subsequently went on to coach Western New York Flash and North Carolina Courage before he was sacked after US online publisher The Athletic revealed more allegations last week.

The next steps by FA and clubs will decide the future of the code in Australia. Those conversations need to be had between players, staff, FA and clubs to ensure the things De Vanna and Dobson are alleging are investigated and have been stamped out.

This story Football Australia needs more transparency moving forward in wake of allegations first appeared on The Canberra Times.