SYDNEY (AFP) – An independent investigation into an allegedly toxic culture in Australian football has referred three separate complaints to police, with two other allegations being investigated internally.
The review by Sport Integrity Australia, a government agency, was prompted by historical allegations of sexual harassment in women’s football by former national team members, particularly star striker Lisa De Vanna.
De Vanna, who earned 150 caps for Australia before retiring last year, said she was regularly subjected to predatory behavior early in her career.
SIA said it has received 27 submissions since it opened its investigation into allegations of bullying, child abuse, grooming, harassment, sexual misconduct, discrimination, victimization and defamation nationally in November.
Of these, nine came from people directly affected and 18 from witnesses.
Only two are under further investigation by the SIA, as the other 25 fall outside its remit because either they did not take place at a national level, the alleged conduct was not prohibited, or the submission was anonymous.
But three of the 25 were referred to police “because they contained information that could warrant a criminal investigation,” SIA said in a statement late Thursday.
– “Discouraged” –
“Each person who speaks up helps us understand what’s happening in their sport and where and on what issues we need to focus our educational and policy resources to create a stronger and safer environment in the future,” said SIA- Boss David Sharpe.
Football Australia’s move to bring SIA on board came after independent reviews found evidence of a toxic culture and abuse in women’s gymnastics and hockey.
Last year Swimming Australia also set up an independent panel to investigate issues related to women and girls, some of which date back decades. In January, she publicly apologized for the way they had been treated.
Football Australia confirmed SIA’s update in a brief statement and said it remains fully supportive of the process.
De Vanna last year claimed she was “sexually harassed, bullied and ostracized” during her career.
She welcomed the acknowledgment of issues at national level, such as those addressed in the SIA review, but said community and grassroots football should also be looked at.
“I can’t say too much as the investigation is ongoing,” she told the Sydney Daily Telegraph on Friday.
“But the fact that the SIA only investigated incidents at the national level was worrying. I think a lot of people will probably leave this investigation because they’re discouraged by the whole process.”