The move to send the matter to Sports Integrity Australia is a good one. It is an independent body, and FA will have no control over the investigation or its conclusions. FA CEO James Johnson’s early form in addressing the matter and thanking both De Vanna and Rhali Dobson for coming forward has been good, although this is tempered by claims that De Vanna has been trying unsuccessfully to raise these matters with FA for some time.
As this plays out, there are two key issues by which FA should be judged. The first is whether De Vanna’s concerns are addressed to her satisfaction, not the satisfaction of FA, its board or its executive. The second is what FA does to ensure that future generations do not have to endure similar abuse, bullying and harassment. While the behaviour complained of did not happen under the watch of the current administration, they are fully responsible for how they respond going forward, and what they put in place to safeguard their athletes.
One part of that is, of course, utilising SIA as an independent body to investigate complaints. But the real kicker will be the need for FA to do the work to ensure that the culture of its national teams is such that the behaviour described by De Vanna is not tolerated by the team or organisation itself.
For FA to ensure that this sort of situation doesn’t happen again it must adequately resource athlete well-being programs across all of its teams and support the development and appointment of leadership groups within teams. A well-supported leadership group is a key component of both establishing team culture and holding players accountable to behavioural standards. It is an important component of ensuring that bullying, harassment and abuse actually doesn’t happen in the first place, or if it does, it is quickly addressed by the leaders within the playing group.
Should FA get it right, and we see a Matildas team with a strong team culture and leaders that support it, it will not only ensure that future generations are protected from such treatment, but that the Matildas are given the best chance to succeed on the world stage, and that the current golden generation are given the opportunity to shine.
Liz Ellis was on Football Federation Australia’s appointed panel for the Independent Review of Football Federation Australia Limited National Teams’ Management.
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