In June, New Zealand Football announced that an independent review into their organisation would be conducted. It was catalysed by 13 complaints made by Football Ferns players regarding a toxic culture under coach Andreas Heraf whilst the squad was on tour in Spain and in camp in Wellington. Today, Philipa Muir released her public findings and recommendations.
The report upholds the Ferns’ complaints that Heraf breached the NZF Code of Conduct and had created a negative environment with instances of workplace bullying. It confirms that the Ferns, senior and experienced internationals, felt they could no longer play for their country if Heraf continued to coach. And it reveals the disappointing reality that the Football Ferns’ welfare was not appropriately protected. NZF has and will apologise to the Ferns. Further, the organisation did not adequately deal with the issues raised. There is more detail in Muir’s report here, but it suffices to say that NZF will need to improve their practices.
Muir also made several points and findings that I think are crucial. She highlights the importance of gender diversity, both explicitly in relation to NZF, and underpinning several of her recommendations.
In Part 18, Muir states that the report focuses on the Ferns because it was about their environment, without undue attention to the All Whites:
“I have not mentioned the All Whites or other elite football teams (other than incidentally) in this review, and note that no formal complaints were received by me in relation to the All Whites […]”.
This point means that the Ferns were not at risk of being forced to the periphery by discussions on the men’s game. This is how important it was that a woman was appointed to lead this review. Muir brought, alongside her expertise, a critical awareness of the need to focus on the Football Ferns, and to keep them at the centre. This awareness comes from shared experience and a willingness to listen. Frankly, I do not believe the report would have been as effective if a woman had not led it, remembering that it was not whole of football issues but issues with the women’s national team that instigated the investigation.
The lack of female coaches is discussed, as the pathway for developing them is “not well-defined”. Muir does not accept New Zealand women lacking “skills or experience” as a reason to continually appoint men, and overseas candidates ahead of kiwis and women: if that is the issue, “then systems need to be put in place to address this”. If given the opportunity, women will be the ‘best people for the job’. Muir spoke to Sarai Bareman, the Chief Women’s Football Officer at FIFA, who points out the need for differentiated approaches to “psychological and physical demands” between women and men. Those who do not have experience coaching women need to be helped to refine this approach. Several steps are taken out of that process if the coach is a woman.
Muir also points out NZF’s lack of gender diversity in their staff and governance. Only 21% of their entire staff are female, and there are no women in the senior leadership. NZF has no Diversity & Inclusion policy, and clearly, they need one, to address a problematic culture of a “boys’ club”. If people perceive NZF as even in part a ‘boys club’, then it is one. That makes it more difficult for women to be involved. That culture bleeds into the entire New Zealand football community, too, and the burden to end it is more than just NZF’s to bear.
The media, for one, need to play their part. A good start would be asking women or people in the women’s game for comments on these issues. Today, Radio New Zealand interviewed Sam Malcolmson about the review, even though he has no involvement with the Ferns and did not know the basic facts. Muir spends 22 pages detailing why the representation of women is important, highlighting that NZF is seen as a boys’ club, and RNZ asked a man to comment. Women’s voices need to be heard throughout our community, and we all need to help.
Crucially, Muir iterates and reiterates that there are “passionate and hardworking people” at NZF. She states that although there are systemic issues, the people are dedicated and the review should not take away from that. Parts of the review are also confidential, to protect privacy. That is important and should be respected. There is no longer anything to gain from combing back through the past and reopening wounds. Discussions about Martin and Heraf are essentially academic now. As Muir notes, this process has been protracted and difficult for those working at NZF. At this point, we need to move forward. We need these passionate people to keep working for NZF. We want the Ferns to perform well at the World Cup in less than a year’s time. We want NZF to solve their issues, so they can effectively perform their objective: helping more kiwis play and love football.
We should also remember that it was the bravery of the Football Ferns, willing to risk what they had worked their whole lives for, that provided us with this opportunity to be better. Our entire community owes them a debt of gratitude. This report was about the Ferns, and it was catalysed by the Ferns. The changes it leads to will benefit everyone, but we must not forget to thank those players who were willing to stand up, speak up, and help us all move forward.
A lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).