Football Australia to investigate sexual harassment claims

Sydney (AFP) – Football Australia pledged Wednesday to investigate historic allegations of sexual harassment in the women’s game raised by former members of the national team.

Star striker Lisa De Vanna, who earned 150 caps for Australia before her retirement last month, said she was regularly subject to predatory behaviour early in her career.

Her claims come as allegations of sexual misconduct and abusive behaviour are roiling the top US professional women’s football league, with the US Soccer Federation naming a former federal prosecutor to lead an investigation.

“Have I been sexually harassed? Yes. Have I been bullied? Yes. Ostracised? Yes. Have I seen things that have made me uncomfortable? Yes,” the 36-year-old De Vanna told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

“In any sporting organisation and in any environment, grooming, preying and unprofessional behaviour makes me sick.”

De Vanna said incidents included being propositioned in the changing room showers and teammates pulling her down and “dry humping” her.

She said she was a teenager at the time and did not know how to handle the situation but had broken her silence because “it is still happening across all levels and it’s time to speak up”.

De Vanna’s former manager Rose Garofano said she told the then-governing body Soccer Australia and was assured the issues would be dealt with in-house.

Another ex-player, Rhali Dobson, said she was also harassed as a youngster.

“A lot of it is pushed under the rug. It was a case of grooming when I first came on the scene,” she told the Telegraph.

Football Australia, which took over running the sport in 2005, said it was unaware of the specific allegations raised by De Vanna but would investigate if she and Dobson lodged formal complaints.

The governing body said it was working with Sport Integrity Australia to set up an independent inquiry looking at the broader issue of historic abuse allegations.

“We have… been engaging with Sport Integrity Australia to develop an additional process for independently investigating allegations of a historical nature as they relate to former players and staff — such as Lisa and Rhali,” it said.

“We will announce the joint initiative with SIA once the details have been finalised.”

Football Australia’s move comes after independent reviews found evidence of toxic culture and abuse in women’s gymnastics and hockey.

Swimming Australia this year set up an independent panel to investigate issues relating to women and girls, while admitting “unacceptable behaviour” dating back decades.

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