Socceroos great Robbie Slater has slammed the FFA over the lengthy bans handed to four Olyroos over “unprofessional conduct” in an April incident.
Lachlan Wales, Nathaniel Atkinson and Brandon Wilson will not feature in a potential 2020 Olympics campaign if Australia qualify, while rising star Riley McGree will play no further part in the Olyroos’ qualifiers after they were suspended for “unprofessional conduct” involving a woman.
Ex-Socceroo Slater believes the hefty bans are an ‘absolute disgrace’ and that he believes the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
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In April this year, a woman complained about the quartet – who were in Cambodia with the Olyroos for the AFC U-23 championship qualifying tournament – leading to a lengthy FFA investigation.
McGree has been banned from international duty until April 1 next year while Wales, Atkinson and Wilson were hit with longer bans through to August 10, meaning that trio cannot be selected for the Tokyo Olympics. All four players will also be suspended for January’s AFC under-23 championships, the qualifying tournament for the Olympics.
According to reports, one of the players connected to a woman on the Tinder dating app while the Olyroos were in Cambodia for Asian Under-23 championship qualifiers, offering her tickets to one of the team’s matches.
The woman reportedly was invited to the team hotel where she had sex with the players. The woman made a complaint to the Australian embassy over how the players treated her after the (consensual) encounter, a complaint she later withdrew.
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The FFA completed an extensive review into the incident and suspended them for “unprofessional conduct”, which some reports claim stemmed to the quartet breaking team curfew.
But former Socceroo Robbie Slater is fuming over the bans, telling Big Sports Breakfast the penalties were an “absolute disgrace.”
“I want to know, and the whole football fraternity should want to know, who has made this disgraceful decision to ban the players effectively for the Olympic Games if they qualify,” Slater said.
“I want to know who made this decision — apparently an independent committee. Why the hell you would need an independent committee for a start to investigate (is beyond me).
“Put this back in perspective — this happened back in Cambodia. The guys have broken curfew, they’re guilty of breaking curfew.
“Every Socceroo in the history of Socceroos would have been banned if that was the case.
“I feel so sorry for those kids, or young adults … that they’re going to miss an Olympic Games, if we qualify.”
Slater also questioned the length of the investigation.
“I just can’t believe it,” Slater said. “Why would it take so long?
“Spare me, give me a break. The guys have made a mistake, yes, they’ve done the wrong thing but the punishment fitting the crime? I don’t think so and I don’t think many other people who are reasonable would think the same thing.”
McGree has had a stellar start to his return to Adelaide United, scoring four goals in his first five A-League games but will now be ineligible for Socceroos consideration, including for World Cup qualifiers against Nepal and Kuwait in March, until his ban expires.
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McGree, Atkinson, Wales and Wilson did not travel with the Olyroos to China on November 9 as sanctions were pending.
The FFA said the four players would also participate in education courses and counselling as a result of the code of conduct breach.
“These sanctions are commensurate to the nature of the breaches of the National Code of Conduct which is in place to safeguard both the players and the reputation of Australian football,” FFA chairman Chris Nikou said in a statement.
“Upholding our commitment to respect and responsibility cannot be compromised. Our game is built on equality, inclusivity and respect and these are values that we will continue to uphold.
“The players have understood the gravity of their actions and have positively commenced respectful relationship programs that will ensure they appreciate these values in the future.” The players can appeal FFA’s ruling to the independent FFA disciplinary and ethics committee.
The players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia, said it would provide support to all four players.
“The PFA has, and continues to, represent the players throughout this process and will work closely with each of them on their options, including appealing the sanctions imposed,” the PFA said in a statement.
“From the outset the players have accepted responsibility, undertaken respectful relationships counselling and at all times acted cooperatively with the FFA during the investigation.”