Matildas coach Tony Gustavasson insists allegations of harassment and abuse within the national set-up have not threatened the build-up to their first game on home soil in close to two years.
The Matildas have not played in Australia since March 2020, but will take on Brazil in the first of two fixtures on Saturday in Parramatta.
But their return to these shores have been overshadowed by allegations from former captain Lisa De Vanna of sexual harassment and abuse during her decorated career in Australian women’s football.
As Football Australia (FA) and Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) detail an investigation which will take submissions into such claims until the end of January, Gustavsson has used the opening of his first press conference in Australia to address the issue.
“I want to be really clear that the wellbeing of players and staff in the team is the number one priority for us and we need to create a safe and inclusive environment,” Gustavsson said.
“We need to face this head on and be willing to get better. We welcome the independent review that is coming up.”
The coach claimed the magnitude of the De Vanna story had not been a distraction for Australia preparing to face the Brazilians for the first time since the ‘Miracle of Montpellier’ comeback win at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
De Vanna’s allegations are not isolated, however, with swathes of female footballers across the globe detailing similar claims.
Gustavsson, who previously worked with the US women’s national team, said he was encouraged by the willingness of players to speak out but put the onus on coaches to cultivate a healthy environment.
“I try to focus on being the best version of myself and do everything with my staff to create the best high-performance environment possible but with wellbeing at the centre of everything we do,” he said.
“For me that zero-tolerance (approach), we have to live by that. No bullying, no harassment, no sexual abuse and I’ll do everything I can to control my environment in that sense.”
SIA said it would receive and consider any allegations from November 1 to the end of January next year.
Confidential complaints would then be directed, if merited, to the National Sports Tribunal for hearing.
SIA chief executive David Sharpe encouraged anyone at any level of football, from the elite to grassroots, to come forward.
“There has been a lot of public commentary about this matter … but Sport Integrity Australia’s formal independent process to deal with these allegations must remain confidential to protect all parties involved,” he said in a statement.
“I also appreciate that people will want outcomes immediately, however these things take time and must be done properly.”
FA chief executive James Johnson said the independence of the process was vital.
“It was really important that we confronted the issue and took decisive action to put in place an entirely separate and independent process, given that the issues we’re talking about are inherently complex and deeply personal,” he said in a statement.