Hockey Australia knew of serious concerns about a “destructive” environment and lack of confidence in non-playing leadership within the Hockeyroos camp as early as 2017, according to letters obtained by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
The letters sent to Hockey Australia outline grave misgivings about Australian hockey’s elite women’s program.
Former players and staff allege HA did not correct that culture when worries were raised about the program in 2017 and 2018. The program remains in turmoil months out from the 2021 Olympics and amid an independent inquiry into alleged poor culture and mismanagement, threats of a player strike and the retirement and dropping of top players.
Key staff from the period when management was alerted to the concerns in the letters remain in charge. HA maintains those figures have the governing body’s support.Advertisement
In response to a series of questions from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald , HA chief executive Matt Favier said claims about the alleged poor culture in the Hockeyroos program would be investigated, but did not address questions about player problems with coaching and support staff, or if HA failed to act on concerns raised in the letters.
“Hockey Australia will launch an independent inquiry into claims and comments that have been made by past players towards the program, as well as provide an opportunity for current players to share their experience,” Favier said.
“The scope of this inquiry will seek to address the claims against the organisation’s culture.”
The inquiry, he said, would also look into allegations of bullying between players.
All three Hockeyroos captains recently stepped down, with Jodie Kenny retiring and Emily Chalker and Georgina Morgan relinquishing their titles. Sources close to the playing group said Chalker and Morgan’s decisions were partly to do with problems they had working with the squad’s non-playing leadership.
Morgan and International Hockey Federation goalkeeper of the year Rachel Lynch were then dropped from the squad in shock announcements. Both have formally appealed their non-selection, the Australian Hockey Players’ Union confirmed.
The squad is currently in Perth and did not train last Tuesday after an emergency meeting following news of Morgan and Lynch being dropped. HA president Melanie Woosnam and the board will address the players this week.
“Our selection panel remain of the view that the group of players who have been selected have the requisite skills, abilities, attitude and commitment to the direction of the high performance program to enable our teams to perform to the highest levels in 2021,” Favier said.
HA announced the independent inquiry in late November, weeks after Favier denied there were major problems within the program.
‘Losing confidence in the ability of the coaching staff’
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have obtained letters from 2017 and 2018 that show coaches, management and the HA board have known about serious unrest within the Hockeyroos camp for years.
The Hockeyroos squad wrote a letter to the board dated May 7, 2018, which detailed “serious concerns regarding the direction of the Hockey Australia women’s program”. Some 12 of the 25 players who signed that letter remain in the most recent Hockeyroos squad.
“As a playing group, we have a number of concerns, which has led to us losing confidence in the ability of the coaching staff and administration to make decisions that promote a culture of excellence and result in future and continued success,” the letter read.
Their five main concerns were: the amount of players who had left the team in that past year, an “unusually” high staff turnover, a disconnect between the players and coaches, a disconnect between players and administrative staff and a “lack of understanding and respect for the players’ perspective, and an unwillingness to address issues raised by the playing group”.
“The above concerns are creating instability and uncertainty amongst the playing group and we believe are directly impacting team performance … urgent action is required to prevent any further degradation in the team’s culture (particularly the relationship between players and coaches).”
The board responded to the May 2018 letter in August, saying they wanted to wait until after the Hockey World Cup. President Melanie Woosnam wrote a detailed response saying HA heard the players’ concerns and would work to improve the Hockeyroos environment.
“I truly hope that you will see and feel that the changes that have been implemented are positive and enable you and your fellow national squad members to achieve success in the future,” Woosnam wrote of the measures, which included engaging with the AIS Athlete Welfare and Engagement program, appointing two new assistant coaches and announcing a review of the high performance model to be implemented post-2020.
Former player Madeleine Ratcliffe, who signed the May 2018 letter as a player, told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald no meaningful change eventuated.
“The board said they would do all these things but a lot of it never came to fruition. A lot of it got kicked down the road, or players were blamed, or it was pushed under the rug,” Ratcliffe said.
Kathryn Slattery, who was part of the leadership group at the time and another who signed the letter, agreed with Ratcliffe.
“Ultimately I felt like it [the letter] was dismissed. It was unprecedented sending that letter and I was shocked nothing changed.
“They’ve known for a long time … the program was hardly high performance.”
Nicole Arrold, a former Hockeyroos player and assistant coach from February to December 2017, wrote a letter to a HA colleague in September that year expressing concern over organisation skills and performance of key people in the program, which she said in addition to other “management issues” were having a “destructive” and “deleterious” impact on the program.
She wrote that she had raised the concerns before.
“The fact that we are planning for training the day before, or on the day of the session, offers further evidence that there is no longer-term plan … I believe we are losing support and faith of players.”
Despite the unrest, the Hockeyroos are ranked No.4 in the world. The Hockeyroos have won three Olympic gold medals (1988, 1996 and 2000) and finished sixth at Rio 2016.
Anthony Colangelo - The Age & Sydney Morning Herald