By Mike Hitch
An independent review into the controversial sacking of former Matildas coach, Alen Stajcic has found there was no “lesbian mafia” orchestrating the axing.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) accepted the findings of the three-person panel, which was commissioned in the aftermath of Stajcic’s axing in January and used two surveys which found player welfare issues with the Matlidas set-up.
The panel, which was brought together in August and Chaired by Diane Smith-Gander and featured Rod McGeoch and Liz Ellis, found that Stajcic’s sacking in January was not driven by bias or agenda from within the Matildas camp.
At the time of the sacking, there were reports that Stajcic had used the term “lesbian mafia” in connection with Australian women’s soccer.
“The panel was unable to uncover any evidence supporting the existence of any formal ‘lesbian mafia’ or that the decision to terminate the Matildas head coach contract was driven by personal bias against Mr Stajcic or in pursuit of other agendas,” the panel said in a 10-page document released on Thursday.
“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.”
Now coaching the Central Coast Mariners in the A-League, Stajcic has denied ever using that term, or any misconduct during his tenure as coach.
Following an internal review into the culture of the national women’s football team, Stajcic was sacked five months out from the Fifa Women’s World Cup despite leading the Matildas through qualification.
Outgoing FFA chief executive, David Gallop said at the time that the decision came after the situation had recently “deteriorated”.
In February, Stajcic alleged that he was never told why he was sacked and that his “career is in tatters and my reputation has been ruined”.
FFA director Heather Reid then apologised to Stajcic earlier in May for saying that “if people knew the actual facts about Mr Stajcic’s behaviour, they would be shocked.”
After his sacking, the FFA ordered a broad review into the management of Australia’s national teams.
The findings, released earlier in December last year, are highly critical of a lack of player empowerment as well as the failure of the FFA’s board and administrators to properly apply changes.
The review also found the players were not “consistently listened to by administrators and those governing the sport”. The report says the issue was “particularly acute” in the women’s football teams, and had caused the players to be cautious of cooperating directly with investigators.
In contrast, non-players were alleged to be “clamouring for attention” and lowering the athletes to the role of “bit players”.