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Is the W-League ready for its first transgender player?

With international transgender athletes the current focus of protests by some female competitors, who are calling for a levelling of the playing field, it is likely that the W-League and FFA will at some stage come face to face with that dilemma.

Domestically, we have already seen the complexities of the issue, with Victorian transgender AFL player Hannah Mouncey denied entry into the 2018 AFLW pre-season draft. Mouncey was deemed eligible to play at state level but not in the highest tier of the game, where one would have thought that the competition was more able to combat her size and strength.

The decision of the powers at be was to stand and Mouncey’s AFLW career remains stalled indefinitely, despite many claiming that the real issues behind such matters are in fact human rights based and not merely an example of discriminatory exclusion.

To suggest there is a simplistic solution to the registration of a transgender athlete into a women’s competition is folly. However, should the FFA sit on its hands and not prepare for the inevitable, it will only be seen in the long term to have been reactionary.

I had the privilege of meeting a young transgender woman from Sydney’s west last Monday to discuss her football journey. In respect to her and according to the conditions she set out quite clearly in agreeing to meet, her identity will be protected throughout this article.

Perhaps that wish on her behalf says all there is to say about the modern challenge of being a transgender athlete and desperately wanting to continue to compete without drawing the judgemental eyes of many.

The young woman seemed powerful, courageous, intelligent and confident as we sat discreetly in a small café within a large shopping complex. No one would have noticed us, her appearance obviously feminine and mine not noteworthy.

She spoke of having played football quite successfully as a young boy and then feeling as though she was required to slip from the face of the earth, as she undertook the transformation from male to female.

Previous team mates, coaches and other parents consistently inquired why a young boy had thrown away his enjoyment of the game and would no longer be competing in junior competition. The player felt she was living a lie within her own skin and now, more lies were required. A rumour was circulated that her interest in the game had waned at the expense of another sport.

Nothing could in fact have been further from the truth. Her passion for football burned as strongly as ever and after 18 months, a new name and a more supportive school environment, the complete social and physical transformation was complete.

Depression and isolation became contentedness and connectedness, fear turned to freedom. Yet sadly, football remained absent.

Sporting governing bodies all around the world have been quick to formulate policies of inclusion.

Those policies are somewhat universal and protect the rights of all wishing to compete. Whether it be religion, race, sexuality, gender, ability, age or nationality, Australian football promotes its policy of inclusion consistently and well.

That policy is entitled the National Member Protection Policy (June 2016). It is a well-crafted document that categorically states in Section 5.6 under the sub-heading Gender that,

“FFA will not tolerate any unlawful discrimination or harassment of a person because of their Gender identity. This includes Discrimination or Harassment of a person who is transgender or transsexual or who is assumed to be transgender or transsexual or has an association with someone who has or is assumed to be transgender or transsexual.”

It is an undeniable affirmation of the policies of inclusion that Australian football wishes to espouse; stating that all are welcome to the game and should participate without fear of harassment or discrimination.

The question then becomes whether the decision to reject an application from a transgender athlete wishing to compete at the highest level of football in Australia is discriminatory or not. Far greater legal minds than mine will ultimately make that decision, as they did in Mouncey’s case, however, with football a far less physical activity and more a game of subtlety and skill, the FFA would do well to prepare for the inevitable transgender application to compete.

My Monday coffee companion wishes to play football again yet lives in fear of taking on the process of applying to alter her sex on official documents. That process varies greatly from state to state and usually involves rather humiliating examinations by medical practitioners and subsequent supporting documents.

Surgery, hormones and other treatments all play a role in informing the legal determination of a person’s sex and transgender athletes cannot be pooled into one strict group or definition.

For this young athlete, it all seems a little daunting and intimidating. Her story is no doubt a common one, that I hope others reading can use as a source of comfort and support in their own journey. Hopefully she will soon be on the pitch and playing the game she loves.

FFA should prepare itself for the applications of transgender athletes wishing to play in the W-League and soon. Transgender footballer Mara Gomez is currently awaiting a decision from the Argentine Football Federation and hoping to play for Villa San Marcos in the nation’s top league.

For the W-League, it is a matter of when and not if.

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Ivan Franjic: “I’m thankful and grateful that I was able to live my dream”

Socceroos Ivan Franjic

Ivan Franjic’s arrival at historic National Premier Leagues Victoria side Heidelberg United has come via an unconventional journey to say the least.

From his early beginnings in the then-named Victorian Premier League with the likes of St Albans Saints and Melbourne Knights, to playing for Russian side FC Torpedo Moscow, to playing in the third-largest urban agglomeration in Korea with Daegu FC, Franjic’s career has certainly been one to savour.

Whilst his career has seen injury setbacks, a blocked loan and unpaid wages with Torpedo Moscow – and the discovery of a potentially career-threatening rare inflammatory condition known as myocarditis in 2016 – Franjic is grateful to be where he is today and to have had the footballing experiences he’s had.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the success I’ve had over my travels, and I’ve experienced some different countries,” he said.

“It’s been a great journey and I’m thankful and grateful that I was able to live my dream and play for the Socceroos at a World Cup. Some Championships as well, so, can’t complain at all.”

Torpedo Moscow

And as for why Franjic opted to return to the NPL Victoria to take up an opportunity with Heidelberg United, a family connection and the quality of the league spoke for itself.

“My brother has played in the NPL for a fair bit and I’ve watched a few of his games. If you look at the FFA Cup you’ve always got a Victorian team in the semi-finals, so it must be saying something about how good the standard of the league is,” he said.

“I know the coach George Katsakis and he called me and my brother and said he was interested in signing us. And obviously Heidelberg have had success over the last few years where they’ve won a lot of trophies, so, they’re wanting to build a great team to have another successful year once again.

“Whenever you go to Heidelberg you see that they have a decent following and that everyone gets behind them, so it’ll be good. I’m looking forward to playing in the NPL this year and to finally be playing with my brother after all these years.”

Heidelberg United

Next year’s Victorian NPL season will mark 13 years since Franjic departed his then-Victorian Premier League side Oakleigh Cannons to take up an injury-replacement contract offer with Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar.

It was under the now-Celtic FC coach where Franjic impressed the Roar faithful and built a platform to launch himself into a regular starting berth with the Socceroos at right-back.

As a three-time A-League Men’s Championship winner with Brisbane, three-time Premiership winner with the Roar (twice) and Perth Glory (once), as well as an Asian Cup winner, Franjic has certainly been a key cog in some of Australian football’s most historic sides.

“Obviously, winning the Asian Cup is a massive achievement, it’s similar to someone winning the Euros or the Copa America. But I think in Australia, with soccer not being the number one sport, it’s always hard to get the media buzz of AFL and NRL because they’ve got a huge following,” he said.

“But when you look back on it you don’t realise how high of an achievement it actually was against Asia’s best.

“I’d had Ange as a coach for a few years and he’s no doubt one of the best managers I’d ever worked under. The whole buzz of being in Brazil, with security all around the hotel and obviously Brazil is a football-mad nation, so, everywhere you went people were following you.

“It was exciting, and I thought Australia gave a good account of themselves without getting results in that tournament.”

Each of these remarkable honours were earnt between globetrotting stints with Torpedo Moscow, Melbourne City and Daegu. But before returning to the National Premier Leagues Victoria, Franjic made one final stopover with newly-joined A-League Men’s expansion side Macarthur FC. He gave credit to the side that he helped in their foundation.

“It was no doubt a challenge starting up a new club from fresh and giving it a go. Credit has to go out to all of the staff and the owners; they did an amazing job for a club in their first year in terms of facilities and the stadium. Compared to other clubs that have come into the A-League they were very good,” he said.

Macarthur FC

LaLiga initiative to support grassroots football worldwide

LaLiga

LaLiga has announced the launch of LaLiga Grassroots, in a bid to further advance and improve its bespoke sports and training projects, as well as promote LaLiga’s know-how and methodology.

This initiative is part of a series of international sports projects that LaLiga have been running since 2015 across multiple markets, and its most outstanding new feature is a series of programmes which are set to take place in Spain. The programmes will mainly be held at ESC Madrid, regarded as a state-of-the-art and world-beating sports complex.

Juan Florit, head of LaLiga Sports Projects, will be in charge of the technical and sports side of LaLiga Grassroots.

“LaLiga Grassroots was conceived as a new specialised unit conceived by the Sports Projects team and the International Business and Development team,” Florit said.

“Our activities will mainly focus on the holistic development of young players, international training programmes for professionals in the sector, and projects to promote and support LaLiga clubs when it comes to their academies and running international tournaments.”

This new project represents a further step in LaLiga’s creation and execution of sports projects, an area through which it has enjoyed great success over the last six seasons.

The project is set to find positions for nearly 750 Spanish coaches, as well as provide training for more than 20,000 coaches and 175,000 players in the more than 400 projects carried out across 38 countries.

Javier Hernandez, Head of Business and International Development for the project, was excited to see LaLiga Grassroots finally launched.

“The work we’ve carried out over the years in training players and coaches internationally has taken things to the next level, not only for those who have worked with LaLiga, but also for the league itself and its clubs,” he said.

“We’re convinced that now, with the creation of LaLiga Grassroots and the new programmes that we’ll be running at the ESC Madrid Center, we’ll be able to create better opportunities for everyone.”

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