MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A panel set up to review Australia’s national soccer teams said it had found no bias or agenda behind the termination of women’s coach Alen Stajcic in January or any existence of a reported “lesbian mafia” that wanted him out of the job.
Governing body Football Federation Australia (FFA) sacked long-serving Stajcic after an internal survey of players and staff, followed by a supplementary review by a women’s rights group.
The FFA said the reason for Stajcic’s dismissal was because he had presided over a “poor culture” but offered no details, prompting speculation and innuendo about the sacking.
State broadcaster ABC reported Stajcic had regularly used the term “lesbian mafia” to complain about a cohort in Australian football seeking to undermine him.
Stajcic, now coach of Central Coast Mariners in the men’s A-League competition, said people in Australian soccer wanted to ruin his reputation but he has denied ever using the term “lesbian mafia”.
A three-person panel formed by the FFA released a summary of its review on Wednesday which said they had found no evidence of a plot against him.
“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 report said.
“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.”
The FFA’s handling of Stajcic’s dismissal was widely criticised by Australian media and former players.
In May, an FFA board director issued a public apology to Stajcic for fuelling speculation that his sacking was for misconduct by sending messages critical of the coach to journalists.
The FFA also released a statement on the same day that said Stajcic’s dismissal was not because of a breach of contract or misconduct but because the board had decided “that the Matildas would benefit from a new coach for the World Cup”.
The Australian women’s team, coached by Stajcic’s replacement Ante Milicic, were eliminated from the round of 16 in France, their worst World Cup performance since 2003.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford