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Volume 7 No. 149

International Football

Sacked Matildas coach Alen Stajcic has "taken aim" at Football Federation Australia, its CEO David Gallop and an unnamed board member in his first public appearance since his "tumultuous dismissal" last month, according to Dominic Bossi of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. He accused the organization of "damaging his reputation to the extent that he fears he may never be able to coach again." The public backlash following Stajcic’s sacking "escalated even further" on Sunday after Stajcic gave his side of the story for the first time since his dismissal on Jan. 19. The 45-year-old claimed he was given "no details" about the reason for his sacking beyond what FFA has said publicly. Stajcic raised "serious concerns" over FFA’s handling of a review into the Matildas team culture, which the governing body gave as a reason for terminating his contract. He said that he had been given no information about the issues raised in a survey of Matildas players and staff, and "no opportunity to respond to questions over the team environment." Stajcic "strongly denied allegations of bullying," presiding over a "toxic" team culture, fat-shaming and making homophobic remarks. Stajcic: "I was terminated without cause. There were no actions or behaviors that could be attributed to me. That was FFA's response, and if I could add a little bit to that, I saw a tweet from board director Joseph Carrozzi saying there's no smoking gun" (SMH, 2/11). REUTERS' Ian Ransom reported Stajcic, who "struggled to hold back tears" on Monday, said that he had "considered legal action" against FFA. He said, "I'm here today to clear my name and restore my reputation ... after having spent 20 years coaching the game. In 20 years of coaching, I've never had an issue around the culture of any single team that I've coached, let alone the Matildas." Stajcic said that he had only one meeting with Gallop for "about 20 minutes" on Jan. 18 before being sacked the next day. He added that his requests to see the survey results or get more information were "ignored" (REUTERS, 2/10).

FFA RESPONDS: In Sydney, Ray Gatt reported FFA Chair Chris Nikou responded in a statement saying that the FFA board "disagree with many of (Stajcic's) assertions and were surprised by a number of his comments." Nikou: "Indeed, Mr. Stajcic, by his own admission and in the presence of an FFA lawyer and the FFA CEO David Gallop, said that the team environment was ‘dysfunctional’ and was 'always going to be this way.' In those circumstances we decided to act in time to put the team’s Women’s World Cup campaign back on track. ... Nothing Mr. Stajcic said today changes the facts, that built up over time, that informed the FFA's decision to legally terminate his employment as coach of the Matildas." Gallop said that he would not get into "a point-by-point debate that further distracts the team." He added, "Mr. Stajcic knows that the team environment, contrary to today's comments, was not satisfactory. A change was needed" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/12).

Refugee Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi boarded a flight to Australia "after Thai authorities withdrew an extradition case against him," according to Davidson & Ellis-Petersen of the London GUARDIAN. Thai authorities said that the Bahraini government decided to end its pursuit of al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in '14 "before being granted permanent residence in Australia, where he has lived since." Al-Araibi, 25, spent more than 70 days in detention "after traveling to Bangkok for a honeymoon with his wife" on Nov. 27. He was jailed and beaten in Bahrain "during a crackdown on pro-democracy athletes." He was later sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail "over an act of vandalism he maintains he could not have committed because he was playing in a televised football match." Before Monday, Bahrain had "stood firm" on its allegations against al-Araibi and denial of all accusations of human rights abuses, "despite a mounting international scandal" (GUARDIAN, 2/11).

'FREE MAN': REUTERS' Tanakasempipat & Kittisilpa reported al-Araibi was arrested in November at a Bangkok airport, following an Interpol notice issued at Bahrain's request. Thai Attorney-General's office official Chatchom Akapin said, "There are no grounds to hold him anymore. It is his right to decide where he will go next. He is a free man." A witness said that al-Araibi was seen leaving the Bangkok remand prison in a car and immigration officials said that he was heading for the main int'l airport in the Thai capital. Amnesty Int'l, which lobbied for his release, later said that al-Araibi arrived at the airport. It was not "immediately clear when or why Bahrain withdrew its request" (REUTERS, 2/11).

STILL STANDING: The BBC reported Bahrain's foreign ministry on Monday said that despite the end of the extradition proceedings, "the footballer's conviction still stood." It added, "The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi" (BBC, 2/11).