A professional Wellington Phoenix women's team has been scuppered at the last hurdle by the inflexibility of Football Federation Australia.
The club's inaugural W-League team was set to be officially unveiled on Thursday and would have featured in the upcoming 2020/21 season starting in late December.
But the New Zealand Herald understands Football Federation Australia, and in particular their CEO James Johnson, have put paid to those hopes by blocking a change to league regulations, which would have allowed New Zealand players to be classified as Australians for the purposes of the competition.
As with the men's A-League, clubs in the W-League can have a maximum of five foreign players in their squad. However, New Zealand players in the Phoenix men's side don't count towards that quota, allowing the club to not only provide a pathway for kiwi players but to give fans here a sense of ownership in their club. The current 20-man Phoenix men's roster includes 11 New Zealanders.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Without this change in W-League regulations, the Phoenix women's side could only have a maximum of five New Zealand players with the rest having to be Australian. It's not clear why there is a reluctance by Johnson and FFA to bring the W-League competition rules into line with the A-League, but it means the Phoenix women's side is now stalled just short of the start line. It's understood the Phoenix had the backing of all other W-League clubs to join the competition.
In a statement, the club responded to speculation, confirming they have been "actively pursuing" the course of action.
"[We] are working with Football Federation Australia (FFA) on an entry into the competition in due course.
"The club will not be making any further comment on an entry into the W-League at this time."
Sports Minister Grant Robertson was set to join representatives from both the Phoenix and New Zealand Football and members of the inaugural playing squad at the official announcement in Wellington on Thursday. Initially, the side would have been based out of Wollongong in New South Wales, where the men's squad is currently preparing for the start of the new A-League campaign, but post-Covid both would have returned to Wellington to train and play home games.
The Phoenix's maiden W-League squad was to be comprised mainly of New Zealand players, many of them youngsters, with Football Ferns coach Tom Sermanni lined up to coach the team. The concept had the full support and backing of New Zealand Football who see it as a crucial pathway to professional football for our best young female players.
It's unclear whether there will be any flexibility applied by Football Federation Australia in the future, but the Phoenix wouldn't entertain the thought of a side made up almost entirely of Australian players, which the current rules would necessitate.