Believing survivors without a witch hunt

We need to talk about historical allegations being put forward and reported on by News Corp.

I said I was here to talk about the tough conversations. So here I am swearing and shaking my head at myself for saying such a thing.

There’s a lot to unfold. Bit like an onion. So let’s try to peel off a few of those layers.

Lisa De Vanna must be believed. Picture: Getty

The big issue

Survivors must be believed. The experiences Lisa De Vanna has recounted and shared publicly need to be believed. What Rhali Dobson experienced needs to be believed.

Players are people. People shouldn’t be put in an environment where they are made to feel uncomfortable in the way De Vanna and Dobson described.

There might be layers to the form of the storytelling that portrayed those experiences but this doesn’t change. We must believe survivors.

In the words of Football Australia CEO James Johnson:

“We must acknowledge at the centre of this we have two players who have shown great courage to speak about their personal experiences. Lisa and Rhali, we see you and we hear you.”

Words don’t mean much without action. 

So far Football Australia has sprung into action. Winding back to 2018 with the Independent Review of National Teams Management. Now, the development of an independent complaint management process under an agreement with Sports Integrity Australia, announced on Wednesday.

Does this absolve all? No. 

Does this have the potential to support players to have a safe avenue to resolve issues and to put in safeguards to protect them? Proof is in the pudding but the first steps of buying the right ingredients appears to have occurred. 

The (poor) storytelling

There’s so many things about the Daily Telegraph’s article that makes me uncomfortable from a journalism point of view. 

My first significant issue with the article is the lack of reply. I know, people will say Football Australia replied promptly and that was in an article side-by-side in print. 

Nonetheless, with allegations of this magnitude and no clear identifying person or entity other than the governing body, a response was needed for balance. The article had as much balance as I do after being spun around half a dozen times with concussion induced vertigo. There was none.

Sure I get defamation laws might stop outwardly naming people. Or the players may not have been forthcoming with that information. I really do get those barriers. However the due process of even digging up background knowledge wasn’t done.

There wasn’t the due diligence of researching the situation. Even saying that there had been steps by Football Australia to address cultural issues within the national team in 2018. That’s knowledge that is readily available. Sure kick at it, but let’s make sure there is at least some balance through background knowledge for readers to draw from. 

It’s dangerous to compare things. But bare with me here. The Athletic’s article on the situation in the NWSL was well researched, had a call to action to sack the coach who was still involved in the game and was written in a sensitive and fully rounded manner. The Daily Telegraph’s article lacked that nuanced approach.

It was written as a quick fire clickbait piece. Football and these types of allegations deserve better than that. De Vanna and Dobson deserve better than that.

Rhali Dobson deserved better reporting of her experiences. Picture: Melbourne City

Us v Them

We need to talk about the elephant in the room of queer/lesbian v straight footballers.

It’s not always easy to find a safe place as a queer person. It’s incredibly rare to find spaces where you’re not in the minority. Fortunately for me and many other people I know, we have found women’s football. A place not necessarily where we are the majority, but somewhere that has become a safe haven for us.

On the other end of things. For straight people, it would be even rarer to be in an environment where you might be in the minority for your sexual preference. Or to have ever experienced such a visibly queer space, particularly if you’re a young player.

I’m in no way giving free passes for De Vanna’s or Dobson’s perpetrators. Again I will reiterate: no one should be made to feel uncomfortable in the way that has been described.

There remain a couple things that need to be considered.

Already mentioned, the journalism wasn’t great. With that, there was an undercurrent of homophobia within the article that I and many others picked up on. That’s downright dangerous.

To put De Vanna’s and Dobson’s experiences in the same article doesn’t do either justice apart from providing an “us v them” situation. Add on how broad and general the reporting was done and having the two allegations side-by-side sprouts a different agenda than the conversations that should be happening.

There simply must be conversations on what further protections there needs to be for minors playing in senior teams. There should be conversations on whether players have access to facilities that mean they can shower in enclosed, private cubicles. There needs to be conversations on the application of an independent complaint process. And conversations on what players can do when they are in uncomfortable, potentially abusive situations. 

It would be awful to see a conversation on toxic culture turn into a witchhunt for queer players, administrators, coaches, supporters or volunteers. I fear this is happening and the pitchforks are being sharpened.

Capping off

There’s a lot more that could be said. Top of my mind is the PFA’s response and Elise Kellond-Knights Tweet. But I think it’s best we leave it here. 

Women’s football has a problem. Whether that’s sexual abuse or toxic environments. Football associations, clubs and leagues from grassroots through to the elite must stand up and actively go about changing that.

Too often reports come out with a sense of ‘yeah I knew shit was going down… sad but unsurprising’. That needs to end. We need to be the generation to stamp that out to make our sport the safe, welcoming and beautiful space many of us know it can be.

Please note: Social media posts will have comments disabled when sharing this article. This is a sensitive topic that if you wish to discuss feel free to shoot me a private message. Equally a recent high court decision means pages have more onus on their comment section. I do trust people I normally interact with on my pages, however I don’t have the time to monitor comments vigilantly enough to have them open for this conversation.

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