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The word out of FFA HQ is that they are “very comfortable” with their legal position on the Alen Stajcic sacking.

Heather Reid said as much in her private messages to members of the football community when FFA made their announcement, and it has continued to be the case ever since. The FFA's comfort levels are even more so since the FFA Board demanded management come up with the goods to back their recommendation. Helped by the head of steam the issue has gathered, FFA management are rather gleefully believed to have compiled what one FFA source described as a “big fat file” on Stajcic since Monday night's Board meeting. After all - this was about FFA's management saving their own jobs so the motivation was there to move fast.

Of course, the ‘legal’ position is what lawyer and FFA Chairman Chris Nikou carefully laid out in his letter to state federations yesterday. 

It also came up with even more words to describe the environment that Stajcic allegedly presided over.

According to the FFA Chairman, Stajcic said in the meeting to discuss the findings of the Our Watch summary report of the Matildas to the FFA CEO David Gallop and a company lawyer – presumably Head of Legal, Tim Holden – on Friday 18 January that the Matildas environment was “dysfunctional” and“cancerous” and “was always going to be that way”

On the basis of these alleged words, based on Gallop and his staff member Holden's recollection of the 20-minute meeting, Stajcic was sacked. 

As well as not getting the full gist of the conversation, we're also not getting the context in which those words were said. Here are two options. 

Option A:  the FFA version

  • Stajcic said those words because he didn’t want to admit there was an issue to deal with, or he had no inclination or clue on how to deal with it. 

Option B:  an alternative version

  • Stajcic said those words because the “dysfunctional” cultural issues within the Matildas is longstanding, systemic and not in the remit of the head coach to do something about, whether that head coach be female or male. 

For example:

  • Who allowed player power to take hold to get rid of Hesterine de Reus in the first place? While Moya Dodd is alleged to still be seething over this – as de Reus was her personal choice as Matildas coach – and she makes no secret of the fact that she is not a fan of Stajcic, should the players have been permitted to get their way? Answer: FFA.
  • When most of the players went on strike over pay and conditions and refused to travel to the USA, who were they negotiating with over those pay and conditions? Answer: FFA
  • Last year, Stajcic made the point publicly that he thought some of the players were fatigued and needed a break, which is why he rested several of the bigger name players from the England and France tour. Samantha Kerr said exactly the same thing to AAP yesterday. Did this come into FFA's consideration of the 'cultural' issues or the responses to the surveys? Answer: probably not.

We can only repeat what we have said before. We do not know what is true and what is not. We do not know the full story. What we do know is that the ‘he said, he said’ version of events is not particularly edifying or helpful to anyone.

There’s also another issue. And that’s about culture. 

Let’s say Alen Stajcic made disparaging comments about some of the women working in football and used poor and derogatory language to talk about them.

Is that wrong? Yes. Is it insensitive? Yes. Is it inappropriate? Yes. Is it a sackable offence? Decide for yourself. 

Let’s also say that the alternative contextual version mentioned above has even a smidgen of truth to it. 

Will the new-ish FFA Board take the opportunity to actually address the systemic elephants in the room, or will they merely bunker down and circle the wagons in order to protect themselves legally?

According to Nikou, this entire saga began in July/August when an FFA employee – presumably either the abnormally recently silent Emma Highwood or Luke Casserly – “identified potential issues” with the Matildas. This coincided with the PFA wanting to conduct a Wellbeing Audit which the PFA “fast-tracked” at FFA’s request. This survey, according to Nikou, was completed by the “majority of players” at an “assembly” which totalled 32. Yet, according to FFA, only 20 players were in camp in November 2018 so it would be interesting to know who else attended the “assembly” to make up the “majority” who were there to take it to 32. 

Nikou then goes on to say the concerns were tabled at a meeting of the FFA Women’s Committee on 1 August last year.

This is fascinating, because the 2018 annual report of FFA shows us that the FFA Women’s Committee in 2018 comprised:

  • Chris Nikou (Chairman)
  • Kelly Bayer Rosmarin
  • Danny Moulis (former Board member)
  • David Gallop
  • Emma Highwood
  • Jo Setright
  • Sarah Walsh
  • Mia Garlick (from Facebook, friend of Dodd, and a member of previous iterations of FFA Women’s Committees since 2008), and
  • Heather Reid.

Nikou tells us that it was this committee which recommended that “a suitable organisation” be engaged to conduct a culture/gender equality survey. We've also learned that it was after this particular meeting that a Board member - either Nikou, Rosmarin or Moulis as Reid wasn't then a Board member - allegedly informed Stajcic that “They're out to get you.”

In October, Our Watch – which is chaired by former Senator Natasha Stott Depoja who is also a member of the ill-fated committee bidding for the 2023 Women’s World Cup (yes - shock - we won't win it) - was engaged to conduct a second survey of all staff including the Matildas.

While this was going on, the PFA Wellbeing Audit report was received which “warranted further investigation” and part of the plan to address the issues identified included the two-day workshop last month. 

While Stajcic said it was he who initiated the team leadership and culture workshop in Sydney on 21-22 January, Nikou's letter alludes to the workshop being a joint venture of the FFA and PFA - as if Stajcic wasn't involved at all - yet the PFA has said that the workshop was “designed” by those involved in the PFA Wellbeing Audit which, according to them included Stajcic, while the FFA Head of National Performance is said to claim it as his idea. Confused?

Frankly, we're not sure why it matters so much whose idea it was, but there are at least four different versions of this one little fact - which is probably indicative of this entire sorry mess. 

However, notwithstanding that it could be seen as pre-empting an outcome, someone in FFA thought it was a good idea to send the summary details of the PFA Audit to Our Watch.

Strangely enough, although we have been previously told that the Our Watch survey was “confidential”, Our Watch was able to separate out the Matildas component of their survey to provide another report to FFA. 

And this led to the 18 January meeting. 

That’s all very interesting but here are the points the Board needs to understand. 

1.          A sporting team is not an ordinary workplace. If they think that everyone on a team ‘gets on’ with each other, they’re living in La La Land. I worked closely with the entire Brisbane Strikers NSL squad for two years and I know this. I was the (female) team manager of the men’s national team (Socceroos) and I know this. I was head of corporate and public affairs at FFA and dealt on the periphery with both the national teams and I know this. And guess what? Not all the players like their coach! Shock! Horror! Not all the players like one another. Some would even visit us at FFA headquarters and complain about their coach or their team members. As much as some may like to think that the national teams sit in circles holding hands singing kumbaya when they’re not training or playing – they don’t. They are relatively young people full of high energy, and sometimes fragile, egos who are wanting to carve out their niche in football and in life. 

2.          There is an elephant in the room when it comes to women’s football. While some dismiss those who have raised this as referring to ‘lesbian mafia’ and being 'homophobic', it is nothing to do with Italian crime syndicates or sexual preference. It is everything to do with the appropriate and acceptable behaviour within the team environment. For example: should a couple share a room when they’re in camp to compete in a major international tournament? What do you do when a couple breaks-up mid camp and then the camp is divided between the parties? And what do you do when a 15-year-old is exposed to such behaviour and their parents are worried about it? Most of us wouldn't know the answers to those questions but they are some of the issues I heard discussed regarding the Matildas when I was at FFA a long time ago. 

3.          Football has a culture problem. There is nothing more to say about this. If you don't get it now, you never will. Culture starts at the top. I have been writing and talking about it for years but if you need a refresher, please do read my book.

4.          FFA has a culture problem too. If we want to talk about things being 'dysfunctional' in a workplace and have 'always been that way', let's shine a light on FFA. It's become worse over the years. For example, about four years ago a Survey Monkey survey (no, I'm not making it up) of all FFA staff was undertaken which showed that almost 70% of staff were dissatisfied with their work environment. The reasons given? No communication, no transparency, no consultation with experts (particularly when it came to football matters). Does that sound plausible? You decide. The follow-up? Zilch.

5.         A football organisation needs a football heart, brain and soul. Craig Foster might be seen by some as proselytising but he is not wrong when he says there needs to be more football 'nous' within FFA at senior levels. When the National Technical Director reports to the Head of Community and Women's Football, it's a joke. Not just in terms of the perception in Australia, but in the football world. Han Berger said as much here. This is nothing to do with the current occupant of that position being a woman (Highwood), as some would have you believe, but it is everything about under-valuing the importance of a technical director in a national football association. When that same position is responsible for a recommendation that does away with the high performance program without even talking with those responsible for high performance and development, it is as a minimum disrespectful. When asked by a former senior member of the national coaching staff whether the money saved by cutting the AIS program would go to national youth development and teams (male or female) and it doesn't; when we hear about training camps cancelled two days before they were due to happen because of lack of funds; when the Pararoos are forced to resort to public fundraising because FFA can’t afford $400,000 to support their participation in the 2019 World Cup; and when we hear of salaries north of $700,000 for senior executives at FFA, it goes to the heart of FFA's cultural problem. People with a football heart, brain and soul - and it doesn't have to be all former footballers - would not make those decisions, regardless of the budgetary pressures on the organisation, and they wouldn't drain the game of such high salaries. 

The point is well documented in academic and business literature around the world, as well as by ASIC, that the culture of any organisation or any enterprise starts and ends at the top.

As a unit, the FFA Board has been in charge for 89 days. 

But the senior management team is entrenched. Gallop has been there for more than six years. Jo Setright has been there for 12 years. Falvo and Highwood have been there for 11 years each. Holden has been there for 10 years. Casserly has been there for six years. Luke Bould (chief commercial officer) has been there for five years; Greg O'Rourke is a relative newcomer who has been there for three years.

Stajcic was appointed in September 2014 when Australia was ranked 10th in the world; that's not yet four-and-a-half years and we're ranked sixth. And he's the one to take the fall for the Matildas being “dysfunctional”.

What we’re seeing now is not entirely of the FFA Board's making (although one has contributed further to their current troubles). But on their own timeline of 100 days, they've got 11 days to get it right.

Just do it.

Categories: Opinion | Women | Football Business

ffa board, ffa governance, chris nikou, alen stajcic, matildas

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