Hockey Australia in Crisis as Appeal Lodged by Players
Hockey Australia is in a crisis just months away from the opening match of the Tokyo Olympic Games. After two of the most seasoned players in the Hockeyroos’ squad were omitted from their 2021 line up, an emergency meeting was called as fears of a player revolt grows stronger. An appeal was lodged on Thursday by the Australian Hockey Players’ Association, sparking the expectation of a player boycott.
Hockey Australia revealed its new performance group, which will lead the Hockeyroos to the Olympic Games next year and beyond, on Wednesday. A shock and significant exclusion of Rachel Lynch, the Worlds No.1 Goalkeeper, along with influential stars Georgie Morgan and Karri McMahon, drew all the headlines for the wrong reasons. Karri McMahon announced on Tuesday she was retiring from the game ‘due to injury’ in an attempt to jump the gun on the squad announcement.
In the face of recent dissatisfaction over the organisational culture, the loss of the trio – generally viewed as indispensable members of the squad and playing at the peak of their games – sparked an emergency meeting of 15 players at the team training camp in Perth on Tuesday night.
The HA Board was made aware of the situation in a letter submitted by the players’ association until a formal team statement was made on Wednesday, which caused a media uproar.
The Australian Hockey Players’ Association reported on Thursday that appeals have been filed with the HA in an attempt to get Lynch and Morgan recalled to the 2021 squad.
Further speculation has emerged about the hierarchy of Hockey Australia threatening players with holding back government funding. Athletes who will not sign their Player Agreements, until the conclusion of an independent investigation are being harassed once again. The investigation, initiated by HA, into the National Women’s program after months of frustration from the players and reports of abuse and disorganisation.
Matt Favier, CEO of Hockey Australia, vigorously disputes any bad feelings or problems within the Hockeyroos programme.
Morgan is one of three former co-captains who has thrown away the armband in recent months. Along with Emily Chalker, Morgan stood down from the role, while Jodie Kenny retired from international hockey in October.
Lynch, 34, currently the FIH World Goalkeeper of the Year has 223 caps for the Hockeyroos and has been a leading figure both on and off the field.
Accusations of a bad culture within the elite programme and questions over how complaints of abuse have been handled have been surfacing for months as discontent within the Hockeyroos grows.
But the decision to remove the seasoned Morgan and Lynch seems to have taken the crisis to a head. The players boycotted training after Tuesday’s meeting, and it is believed that the prospect of strike action has been mentioned.
On announcing the squad, HA said the selections signalled a “changing of the guard and a renewed focus towards an injection of young blood into the Hockeyroos fold”.
The coach, Paul Gaudoin, said he understood the squad announcement would provoke mixed emotions, but “that is the nature of high-performance sport”.
“The selection criteria takes into account a range of aspects, so we stand by and respect the decisions the selectors have made,” he said.
Gaudoin said on Wednesday the wellbeing of the players remains a top priority for HA. “That’s always going to be the case,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re looking after them.
“We’ve had a clinical psychologist in our program since I took over in 2017. We’ve got an athlete wellbeing and engagement staff member … we’ve got a lot of people and a lot of structures in place to help support the mental health and wellbeing of the athlete.”
Former players are coming out in their droves to support the players and calling out Hockey Australia. Olympian Georgie Parker said, “this is about the unprofessional, unsupportive and unfit management system they have, which spin lie after lie to cover their own arses instead of protecting their athletes.”
Madi Ratcliffe, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist, said: “It is never too late to admit you made a mistake, especially one so disrespectful to a champion of the sport.”
Former Great Britain Capaton and Olympic Gold Medalist Kate Richardson-Walsh has also commented on the situation saying, “My heart goes out to Hockeyroos players in and out of the squad. To get to this point they must have endured and suffered a great deal. High performance culture and caring for your athletes should go hand in hand.”
The AHPA said Lynch and Morgan would make individual statements “at an appropriate time; however, wish to acknowledge and thank past and present players and the hockey community for their overwhelming support in recent days”.
Hockey Australia has been contacted for comment.