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Questions over credibility of ‘independent’ review of sacking Matildas coach Alen Stajcic
The independence and credibility of the findings of a just released review into the sacking of Alen Stajcic from his role with the Matildas earlier this year has been brought into question with the revelation that it included no input from the former coach.
Released yesterday, the review, undertaken by a supposedly independent three-person panel appointed by governing body Football Federation Australia (FFA), found no bias behind the January dismissal and went on to make a series of recommendations around the themes of an undefined notion of ‘athlete centricity’ in national team management.
Welcoming the findings of the panel - chaired by Diane Smith-Gander and also consisting of former netball star Liz Ellis and Rod McGeoch, Deputy Chairman and Trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground - FFA Chairman Chris Nikou stated “this report is a crucial pillar upon which the future success of our national teams will be built.
“The lines of communication and accountability in managing those teams need to be of the highest standards for us to achieve the success we crave.”
However, while mainstream media focused on the panel’s review failed to find evidence of a reported ‘lesbian mafia’ that wanted Stajcic out of the job, it has emerged neither Stajcic nor other Matildas coaches were interviewed as part of the review.
That prompted Football Coaches Australia (FCA) to question how the panel had reached its conclusion without the input of Stajcic or any other coaches.
Speaking today, FCA Chief Executive Glenn Warry commented “if you’re going to do a case study around Alen’s sacking ... I would have thought you’d speak to Alen and all the other national team coaches involved.
“We weren’t consulted or interviewed as part of the review which is surprising as well.
“What we were looking for at the very start, when Alen was sacked, was transparency in the process moving forward.
“We were looking for due process for Alen at the time, procedural fairness and accountability. As to whether that’s been achieved by the review, we’re not too sure.”
FCA had originally criticised the terms of reference for the review as "too narrow" in August, when they were released, saying it did not give scope for the involvement of Stajcic or other ex-FFA employees or permit third-party submissions.
The terms of reference also made it clear that FFA's decision to remove Stajcic was not the subject of a review, but that the saga was to be used "as an example to shed light" on questions of process within the Federation.
Stajcic was sacked as head coach just months before the team's disappointing performance at the World Cup.
Reports at the time of his sacking suggested he was forced out over a management style that was apparently causing high levels of stress and fear within the team.
It was also reported that Stajcic blamed a ‘secret culture’ within the Matildas for forcing him out of his position - claims he has consistently denied.
Subsequently, it emerged that FFA board member Heather Reid had sent personal communications to a number of people, including journalists, in which she implied misconduct on the part of Stajcic was behind his departure from his role with the national women’s football team.
In May, Reid “unreservedly apologised” to Stajcic for the “pain and suffering” caused to him by her comments.
Remarkably, Reid remains an FFA board member while the panel’s report appears to make to reference to her allegations.
In then reaching a settlement with Stajcic, the FFA advised that he not sacked on the basis that he had breached his contract or had engaged in any misconduct.
The independence of the review has today been undermined by an email from McGeoch to his fellow panel members, obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald, which seems to suggest that Nikou had advised them not to interview the former Matildas coach.
Stajcic had been asked to make a written submission but instead wanted to spend a full day with the panel, in the presence of his lawyers, and provided other stipulations that the panel deemed to be unworkable.
McGeoch's email "I would still send the Stajcic reply to Chris Nikou and ask him to confirm his earlier advice not to interview him. It is a powerful response and if leaked after our final report would make quite a story. That concerns me a little . Happy to discuss.”
In a statement, Smith-Gander described as "entirely inaccurate" any suggestion that Nikou instructed the panel not to interview Stajcic, and said a prior email exchange had been interpreted wrongly by one of the panel members.
She denied there was any direction from FFA as to who it should or should not interview and that the review was completed with "full independence" from the FFA board.
The process was described by Stefan Kamasz, former Chief Executive of Football New South Wales, as having “Zero credibility. An absolute disgrace.”
Bonita Mersiades, President of advocacy body Women in Football and former FFA Head of Corporate and Public Affairs, went further, stating “if the FFA board and the review committee had been serious about these issues, they would have opened up the inquiry for anyone to have input because the circumstances around the Alen Stajcic sacking, and the actions of one board member, were responsible for significant ill-will in the football community for the entire year.
"This summary report does nothing to advance knowledge on the matters around that central issue or to improve confidence and trust in the structures in place for governance of the game in Australia.
“In that regard, it is a failure.”
The panel’s report made direct references to the media and public exaggeration of the issue, finishing by saying "traditional media articles and social media ventilated the notion extensively and the Panel has not been able to find evidence that the FFA took any proportionate action to address the issue nor protect the individuals who were the target of this speculation."
Stajcic, now the coach at A-League club Central Coast Mariners, has declined to comment on the review.
Images: Alen Stajcic at the 2017 Algarve Cup (top, courtesy of Ann Odong), Chirs Nikou (middle) and Bonita Mersiades (below).
13th December 2019 - FFA and NZF unite to submit joint bid for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023
6th December 2019 - FFA confirms appointment of new Chief Executive James Johnson
21st November 2019 - Two female directors join Football Federation Australia board
19th August 2019 - FFA announces independent review of national football teams
1st July 2019 - FFA agrees to independent management for the A-League
26th June 2019 - Women in Football Association looks to eliminate the ‘grass ceiling’
21st May 2019 - FFA launches bid to host 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup
31st January 2019 - FFA Deputy Chair Heather Reid takes indefinite leave to undergo chemotherapy
20th November 2018 - Chris Nikou elected as FFA’s new chairman
14th May 2018 - New program to help develop up and coming Matildas
23rd January 2018 - Bonita Mersiades: Why I wrote the inside story of the FIFA Way
29th August 2015 - More women on sports boards would reduce doping and match-fixing
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