Australian hockey is facing a crisis after the exclusion of two of the Hockeyroos’ most experienced players, just seven months out from an Olympic campaign, prompted an appeal and fears of a player strike.
Ahead of next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Games, Hockey Australia announced its latest squad on Wednesday and revealed the former captain Georgina Morgan and the current world goalkeeper of the year, Rachael Lynch, had been dropped.
Amid recent discontent over organisational culture, the omission of the pair – widely regarded as integral members of the squad and playing at the top of their games – prompted an emergency meeting of 15 players at the team’s training camp in Perth on Tuesday night.
The HA board was made aware of that discussion, via a letter sent by the players’ union, before the official team announcement was made on Wednesday, sparking a public backlash.
The Australian Hockey Players’ Association confirmed on Thursday appeals have been lodged to HA in a bid to have the two players reinstated in the 2021 squad.
HA recently launched an independent inquiry into the national women’s program following months of player discontent and allegations of bullying and disorganisation.
The Hockey Australia boss, Matt Favier, has previously denied there are issues within the Hockeyroos programme.
Morgan is one of three former co-captains who have left the role in recent months; she and Emily Chalker stood themselves down while Jodie Kenny retired from international hockey in October.
Lynch, 34, has played 223 times for the Hockeyroos and was named the FIH 2019 goalkeeper of the year in February.
Discontent within the Hockeyroos playing group has been rumbling for months, with accusations of a poor culture within the elite programme and concerns expressed over the way allegations of bullying have been handled.
But the decision to drop the experienced Morgan and Lynch appears to have brought the situation to a head. The players boycotted training after Tuesday’s meeting and it is understood the possibility of taking strike action has been discussed.
On announcing the squad, HA said the selections signalled a “changing of the guard and a renewed focus towards an injection of young blood into the Hockeyroos fold”.
The coach, Paul Gaudoin, said he understood the squad announcement would provoke mixed emotions, but “that is the nature of high performance sport”.
“The selection criteria takes into account a range of aspects so we stand by and respect the decisions the selectors have made,” he said.
Gaudoin said on Wednesday the wellbeing of the players remains a top priority for HA. “That’s always going to be the case,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re looking after them.
“We’ve had a clinical psychologist in our program since I took over in 2017. We’ve got an athlete wellbeing and engagement staff member … we’ve got a lot of people and a lot of structures in place to help support the mental health and wellbeing of the athlete.”
Several players have publicly voiced their concerns over the treatment of Morgan and Lynch; Kathryn Slattery, who played at the 2016 Rio Olympics, said their exclusion was “just another red flag illustrating what is going on in Hockey Australia”.
Madi Ratcliffe, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist, said: “It is never too late to admit you made a mistake, especially one so disrespectful to a champion of the sport.”
The AHPA said Lynch and Morgan would make individual statements “at an appropriate time; however, wish to acknowledge and thank past and present players and the hockey community for their overwhelming support in recent days”.
Hockey Australia has been contacted for comment.