Australia Women’s team defend ‘professional, inclusive and supportive culture’ amid sexual abuse allegations

Australia Women’s football squad have defended their “professional, inclusive and supportive culture” following historical allegations of sexual abuse and harassment made by former international Lisa De Vanna.

De Vanna, who made 150 appearances for the Matildas and is second on their all-time scorers list with 47 goals, said she experienced harassment, abuse and bullying in 2001 when she joined the women’s squad at age 17.

De Vanna, who went public with her allegations last week and retired from football last month, added that she had seen “cultural problems at all levels” in Australian football. Her allegations are now subject to an independent review, which the current Matildas squad said they will support.

In response to the claims, the Matildas released a joint statement acknowledging and empathising with De Vanna’s allegations and said they will work with the relevant authorities in Australian football to ensure there will be an implementation of a “trusted process” for players to report incidents of inappropriate behaviour.

The statement, which was signed by 15 current Matildas players, continued: “We all – from our most capped players to our most recently capped – would like to reassure to our fans, family and friends that today we have a strong professional, inclusive and supportive culture that does not condone any of the behaviour mentioned within the numerous media articles about historical incidents. Our strong leadership ensures our cultural norms are appropriate for today’s professional sporting environment.

“As a group, we represent the values reflective of Australia and that includes acceptance and inclusivity, regardless of sexuality, ethnicity or culture. It was disappointing to observe conversations inferring the group is not accepting of differences, especially given the diversity that exists within our current leadership group on all those fronts, let alone across the broader team.

“We would also like to reiterate the professional standards that surround the current team today. Women’s football has dramatically grown in recent years and so has our professionalism and standards.”

De Vanna’s allegations came in the wake of the scandal that hit the top level of women’s football in the United States of America – the National Women’s Soccer League [NWSL] – which saw two players come forward with sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against coach Paul Riley.

The allegations were supported by reporting from the The Athletic and immediately led to Riley being fired by the North Carolina Courage, while the NWSL called off its schedule of games and its commissioner stood down from her post. Fifa and US Soccer have opened new investigations into the allegations.

The Matildas statement concluded: “As a team, we have spoken at length about the allegations and are all hurt by what has occurred. We hold this team close to our hearts and for many, this team has been a safe haven. It has given us strength and purpose throughout our careers. We are together like a family in this, from our oldest to our youngest player, and the difficulties we’ve faced in the last week have only made us stronger as a group.

“We stand supportive of athletes who are able to come forward and report instances of inappropriate behaviour in their respective environments, and therefore welcome an independent review into this matter.”

Matildas captain and Chelsea striker Sam Kerr added: “I have been a part of this team for 12 amazing years, from 15 years old to now. Throughout my career the Matildas have been a safe haven for me and allowed me to grow into the player and person I am today. I count myself lucky to be a part of this amazing group of athletes and people.”

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