What We Know, What We Don’t And What We Need In Women’s Football Right Now

On Friday night I arrived in Devonport with my partner to begin a lovely, relaxing Tasmanian holiday. Strictly TV-less and spending much of the time with limited reception, this was to be a sport-less fortnight spent laying on the beach and thinking about how wonderful our trip to France was going to be in June.

I snatched a look at my phone before going to sleep on Friday night. Just a quick glance, I thought, to check the tennis results or to see if the world had collapsed while we were on the Spirit of Tasmania. At 11.30pm, I got a little bit more than I had bargained for.

Staj was getting sacked. The Great Tillies Crisis of 2019 had begun.

My first thought was, why? My second thought was, couldn’t they have waited until after the World Cup? As was about to become apparent, they really couldn’t have. There were some serious cultural issues within the Matildas set-up and the fall out meant that Alen Stajcic had to go.

I don’t know any more than anyone else, but here’s some basic facts of what we know so far.

The PFA suggested to the FFA a few months ago that a review should be undertaken of the Matildas set-up in the lead up to the World Cup. They thought that they could improve the training set-up, sort out workloads, that kind of thing. What they found were serious issues within the squad. Less than 20% of players believed that the environment was optimal for their development. A quarter of all players were too scared to speak out about their concerns for fear of reparations (Source: ABC). This means that more players felt that the environment within the team was so bad that they couldn’t say anything without being punished, than felt good about the team culture.

Our Watch, an organisation that primarily deals with ending abuse towards women, was then asked to get involved. They allege that bullying and harassment occurred towards the players including body shaming and casual homophobia (Source: SMH article). These are serious allegations. It is not clear that Stajcic himself is the target of these allegations but certainly it would involve some staff at some level.

The FFA review included an anonymous survey as well as interviews with players and staff. While we don’t know specifics, and may never know due to confidentiality agreements, the fact that a quarter of players are scared to speak out about their concerns is damning in and of itself. Again, this is not necessarily Stajcic specific. Nonetheless, as head coach, he holds responsibility for the culture of the team. As a result the FFA decided to let him go.

In an unsurprising twist, the FFA has completely bungled the way that they have handled this crisis. The first press conference on Saturday gave the public no answers and left the circumstances of Stajcic’s sacking completely up for speculation. A second press conference held by David Gallop yesterday provided more meme material than answers. The information we do have is largely through the work of journalists.

It also seems like the players found out at the same time, or at least not very long before the public did. This is a disgrace, plain and simple. Regardless of circumstances the players should have had the courtesy of knowing that their coach was being removed before the public did. Removing a coach for the welfare of the players rings hollow when you treat them like crap afterwards.

Many players have tweeted their support for Stajcic including most of the players in and around the first team squad. Kyah Simon was the first to do so, followed by Chloe Logarzo and a cryptic tweet from Lisa de Vanna that was a gif with the text ‘the lies!’ It seems that this is far from a player revolt. The players seem to support Stajcic as an individual, but the FFA decided that the issues that the survey highlighted meant that his position was untenable. Whether that is justified or not is unknowable without the full information.

What has been incredibly frustrating is the underlying assumptions that people have brought to the table regarding this incident. In any media report involving the Matildas there is an element of basement-dwelling, Twistie-dust covered idiocy, but the Bad Takes and sexist assumptions seem to have reached folks who really should know better.

Paid journalists are uncritically buying into a bizarre argument that there was some sort of feminist conspiracy to get rid of Staj and replace him with a female coach. The argument goes that the FFA had been trying to get rid of him for years and just needed an excuse. The excuse came in the form of disgruntled fringe players, who couldn’t handle not getting minutes (being fragile women), and toppled him via anonymous survey. Ergo, another poor innocent man bites the dust and is the victim of the evil feminist agenda. A man will never be the coach of the Matildas again, apparently.

This argument is just ridiculous on so many levels. It’s offensive to suggest that professional female footballers can’t handle rejection. These are women who have worked multiple jobs while playing the game that they love as amateurs. They know rejection. Every one of those players at some point in their careers have been dropped, they have been discarded. Many have travelled across the world to help their careers. They know hard work and to suggest that they would topple a coach because of a slight hardship is ludicrous.

Furthermore, to seriously argue that the FFA would jeopardise their most beloved brand 5 months before a World Cup because of some feminist agenda to get rid of a male coach might be one of the greatest stretches I’ve ever heard. Anyone arguing this needs to quit their day job and become a gymnast because you’d have to be pretty flexible to reach that conclusion. If this is the first place your mind goes to it says a lot about you as a person and the assumptions that you make about women.

It is impossible to know whether the action to sack Stajcic was right or wrong without all of the information. However, the FFA must have felt that what was going on was serious enough to take this action. It’s inconceivable to think otherwise.

The next step for the FFA is to find a coach that can unite a clearly troubled squad. They will have to find a number of other staff by the sounds of it as well, including a new assistant coach after the resignation of Nahuel Arrarte. This will be the most difficult task so close to a World Cup.

The players themselves will keep working every day to prepare themselves. I have no doubt of their commitment at all. Others have written articles about the potential new coaches. Personally, I’m hoping for Joe Montemurro of Arsenal – the fact that they are reluctant to let him go proves how good he is! Whoever the new coach is will be extremely privileged to lead a team with the skill and determination of our Tillies.

I’m still confident that I’ll get to see our girls play in Lyon in the last week of the World Cup. I hope that they get the answers of why it happened that we don’t completely have, and I hope that the culture can now improve.

For now, I’m going back to the beach. See you at the Dub in February.

By Taryn Heddo

What We Know, What We Don’t And What We Need In Women’s Football Right Now

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