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Football ferns coach 'breached bullying guidelines'

NZ Football should have investigated alleged bullying by Football Ferns' former coach Andreas Heraf raised after tours, according to a review into the organisation's conduct and culture.

In a report released this afternoon, the sport's governing body found that New Zealand Football had to share some responsibility as complaints raised by some of the Football Ferns players were genuine and "largely substantiated".

The report was launched after complaints about former Football Ferns coach Andreas Heraf by players, and then growing concerns about the culture within parts of the set-up. The independent review was established to look into the conduct and culture of the governing body.

The review by Phillipa Muir - a leading employment lawyer and partner at Simpson Grierson - found that Heraf had "breached New Zealand Football's Code of Conduct, Human Resources policy on harassment and Worksafe New Zealand's bullying guidelines".

Ms Muir's review said that the governing body shared responsibility because it did not investigate concerns raised by staff following team tours.

It had also not sufficiently supported Heraf when he came to New Zealand from overseas.

"While grassroots football and the relevant programmes delivered by New Zealand Football appear to be in great shape, I have significant concerns around the High Performance environment and some of NZ Football's structure, processes and resourcing, in particular in Human Resources and recruitment.

"There has not been sufficient focus by the organisation on player welfare, particularly for its High Performance teams, in recent years."

NZ Football President Deryck Shaw apologised to all the individual players who complained. He said that he would meet them personally as soon as possible to discuss the review findings.

"On behalf of the executive committee of New Zealand Football we apologise to our players for the conduct of the former Head Coach of the Football Ferns and failings in the organisation that led to this review. We are deeply sorry that these events occurred and for the distress caused."

Mr Shaw said that New Zealand Football will implement the findings and recommendations of the review.

"We are committed to working with players and staff to improve player welfare, and to rebuild trust and engagement among players, staff and key football stakeholders."

The review suggested 22 areas of improvement ranging from dealing with Football Ferns complaints to player welfare, culture, the governing body's processes, diversity issues and governance.

Football New Zealand said that it will front a media conference this afternoon.

Ms Muir interviewed around 80 people including 12 players who lodged complaints.

The review initially centred around the national women's side - after 13 players made complaints about the team environment under Heraf.

The scope was expanded when further complaints were received about the conduct of New Zealand Football.

Heraf and chief executive Andy Martin - the review's two central figures - confirmed their immediate departure from the organisation once the review got underway.

The investigation was set to be completed by the end of August, but that timeline was extended as Muir spoke to more than 80 people within the football community.

The players' official complaints followed the fallout from the Football Ferns recent loss to Japan in Wellington, when Heraf made controversial and negative comments post-match about the quality of his players and their inability to match the Japanese.

It is understood incidents during the players' time in camp for that fixture compounded issues that had arisen during their trip to Spain in March for a pair of friendly matches against Scotland.

The situation was believed to have reached a breaking point for one player, whose decision to make an official complaint resulted in several others coming forward to do the same.


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