Canberra’s united PR bungle

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A matter of sheer principle has forced one of Australia’s most marketable and up-and-coming female athletes to make an emotional decision on the future direction of her professional sporting career. W-League club, Canberra United has scored an embarrassing own goal in discarding 21-year-old defender, Ellyse Perry (pictured).

Capital Football chief executive Heather Reid, this week backed Czech coach, Jitka Klimková by issuing Perry – who is internationally capped in two of Australia’s most popular junior sports – with an ultimatum: choose football over cricket or leave.

“From Jitka’s point of view, Ellyse needs to choose whether she wants to be a full-time Canberra United player and commit to training every day like everybody else does and live in Canberra. If she still wants to try and mix her cricket commitments with football then perhaps she will have to find another club,” said Reid.

Reid went on to suggest Perry could join the new West Sydney team to better serve her choice to pursue two sporting careers.

“It’s a very interesting time for the W-League because the new West Sydney franchise will have a women’s team in the first season, so there will be other opportunities for people in Sydney and perhaps particularly Ellyse Perry to be part of that start-up club.”

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The message is clear, but for Perry, it’s just not cricket.

“I’d still love to be involved and you know, Canberra obviously would be my first choice to play football but if that’s not to be then I guess that’s how sport goes sometimes,” said Perry.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t really thought that far ahead in terms of [the] W-League season coming up this year because it is quite a way down the track in terms of it’s at the back half of the year. I know they haven’t even set competition dates yet and that kind of thing, and playing rosters haven’t even [been] looked at yet.”

“Maybe if a new Western Sydney team were to come in that might be a possibility. If not, I’m not really sure as I said, it’s probably something I need to assess a little bit further down the track given the time of year we’re in at the moment.”

So, it seems Perry can play football and cricket in Sydney but not in Canberra. Why? Klimková will not allow Perry’s inconsistent availability to train affect the playing group. It’s unprofessional. It’s not how it’s done in Europe, and will not be tolerated any longer.

Canberra United’s appointment of an international coach to implement a professional setup is admirable, particularly in the women’s game. The club won its maiden W-League title in 2012 and were undefeated during the league season with seven wins and three draws. All credit to Klimková’s coaching practices, on and off the park.

However, women’s football in Australia has a semi-professional setup, where players are paid a pittance and expected to make a full-time commitment to a 10-round league season. The game is not at a point where rigid or inflexible decisions should be taken without empathy or an understanding of the broader context.

Perry is an elite athlete, and like many youngsters, took a multi-sport approach to her athletic development.

How about acknowledging her work ethic, her intrinsic motivation, her commitment to her country? She is the first female athlete ever to represent Australia at a football and cricket World Cup. Perry’s stunning strike against Sweden in Germany last year was one of the top goals of the tournament, and struck with her weaker foot.

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These aspects and outstanding achievements provide positive messages to the community; great PR for the club, the W-League, and Australian football. Did LA Galaxy sign David Beckham purely for his football? Did the club ostracise him when team captain, Landon Donovan questioned his work-ethic; or his ambition to play for AC Milan? No. They recognised his holistic value.

Here are some facts and figures about the ACT and Capital Football market taken from the Capital Football Annual Report 2011:

  • There are 3,659 registered junior females; 153 teams played in 22 competitions
  • 1,300 senior females registered
  • Kanga Cup hosts; 231 registered teams (3,700 players)
  • Futsal competitions grew by 12% in summer; 11% in winter

The market is there for the taking. Therein lies the bungle.

Perry is a tall-poppy. Sadly, some of Perry’s Matildas teammates have not missed the opportunity to get their claws out on social media site, Twitter.

“To the next person who want’s to disregard Lisa [De Vanna’s] comments based on her behaviour, you can talk to me,” tweeted Lauren Colthorpe (Brisbane Roar).

“They were my comments, she just had the balls to post them. It’s a home truth and the players have wanted this for some time.”

De Vanna made her thoughts very clear.

“Canberra United becomes all that matters. Results and ability should be what matters not image. Till then, we will never be professional,” tweeted De Vanna (Linköpings FC).

“Beautiful doesn’t win games, it only destroys a team when it becomes more important than professionalism.”

To infer Perry is unprofessional is absurd. Her record speaks for itself. Furthermore, to turn this issue into some sort of football versus cricket debate acts to set the arsonist alight.

In 2000, the Matildas’ infamous naked calendar sold out its original 35,000 print run. One player declared it an opportunity to lift the profile of the sport.

Today, we have Perry: an all-round athlete with class and charisma, who is a role model not only for young girls but all aspiring athletes.

Somehow, Canberra’s failed to capitalise.

This opinion piece was published by SportBizInsider.