SYDNEY • Football Australia yesterday pledged to investigate any allegations of abuse in the women's game after recently retired international striker Lisa de Vanna said she had been the victim of sexual assault, harassment and bullying during her career.
The 36-year-old made her initial allegations in response to a tweet by Megan Rapinoe when the United States international commented on the allegations of misconduct against former North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley.
De Vanna, who played 150 times for her country over two decades before her retirement last month, replied she had witnessed women in the game abusing younger female players, and organisations protecting the abusers.
She also told Sydney's Daily Telegraph she had been a victim.
"Have I been sexually harassed? Yes. Have I been bullied? Yes. Ostracised? Yes. Have I seen things that have made me uncomfortable? Yes," de Vanna said.
"In any sporting organisation and in any environment, grooming, preying and unprofessional behaviour makes me sick."
De Vanna added that 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".
"There needs to be consequences. There needs to be accountability," de Vanna expanded in an interview with News Corp.
"I have seen cultural problems at all levels throughout the years - from men and women - and girls coming through need to be brave, and also the girls that have been through this also need to be brave and know they are not alone.
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 but there was apparently no follow up.
Another former 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 the running of the sport in 2005, said in a statement yesterday it would investigate any abuse allegations and the Sport Integrity Australia would oversee an independent complaints process for former players and staff.
"We're committed to safe, inclusive environments for all footballers and staff," Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said.
"There is no place for abuse, harassment or bullying in our sport and it's incumbent on organisations like ours to take the lead when it comes to dealing with these issues head-on."
The move comes after Swimming Australia earlier this year set up an independent panel to probe issues relating to women and girls, while admitting "unacceptable behaviour" dating back decades.
Football Australia had said in a statement on Tuesday that it had met de Vanna to discuss her "grievances" but some of the allegations she made in the media had not been raised at the time.
Professional Footballers Australia, the players' union, said it was deeply concerned about the allegations made by the former players. "All players should feel safe, included and respected," it said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS