Drama continues to engulf the Black Sticks women's hockey programme, with a squad divided between those still loyal to former coach Mark Hager and those who believe the programme needs a cultural overhaul.
The situation within the team was described by one well-placed source as "faulty", while another said that some members of the squad and management team were actively working against changes that coach Graham Shaw has been trying to implement.
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The Herald spoke to more than half a dozen people with knowledge of the issues and learned that some well-known players are considering retirement because of concerns with the environment, even with the Olympics on the horizon.
In detailed responses to queries, Hockey New Zealand chairman Mike Bignell acknowledged that "philosophical differences" remained within the women's programme but that it was not unusual in a high-performance environment.
"We're not naive about the fact everything is fine," said.
Bignell noted that the team's qualification for the Olympics and the break in the international treadmill caused in part by Covid-19, allowed the organisation time to fully focus on cultural aspects within the squad.
"Over the past year and a half, the Hockey New Zealand high-performance team and the Black Sticks management have been working hard to develop a strong unified team culture throughout the women's team," Bignell said.
"While we believe the team has come a long way, we recognise that, as with any large squad of 25 players, there are always natural philosophical differences and debate between players about the high-performance environment and how they think we can achieve our goals."
Bignell, who spoke on behalf of the board, the executive and the Hockey New Zealand's high-performance unit, said that the fallout from Hager's near 10-year reign continued to "cast a long shadow".
The Maria Dew Report into the culture established by former coach Hager lies at the heart of the tensions.
Dew's report was presented to Hockey New Zealand at the end of 2018. The under-fire NSO then released a summary of findings in February last year, insisting the full report was bound by privacy concerns and was never intended for public consumption.
According to the report, 70 per cent of players interviewed had serious concerns about the Black Sticks' environment. Crucially, the review established a "very clear disconnect" between the majority player view of a negative environment and the almost unanimous view of the HNZ and High Performance Sport NZ staff, as well as a smaller group of players, that the environment was largely positive.
Multiple sources have told the Herald that "disconnect" continues and that players still feel uncomfortable about raising concerns. One source said they used to believe it was weakness that players didn't speak out but now recognised it was a symptom of an environment where everybody had learned to "protect themselves", and this allowed the few in the programme who had voices to have outsized influence.
"While it is clearly mandated by Hockey New Zealand that any investigation into player concerns should not affect selection chances, we also understand how difficult it may be for players to trust this process," Bignell said. "We will continue to work hard to reassure players and earn their trust."
Hager left his role in 2018 but a number of staunch loyalists remain in the squad and the management team. A number of the complainants still feel their concerns have been minimised.
Captain Stacey Michelsen was said to be sceptical of the Dew report after referencing it at an ANZSLA Sports Law Symposium last year.
Bignell said he had seen the speech and was satisfied that Michelsen was presenting a "balanced account of player welfare" in high-performance environments.
"It is unfortunate if her comments have been misunderstood or misrepresented," Bignell said. "Stacey... takes her leadership role extremely seriously. From our perspective she leads by example both on and off the field."
Assistant coach Katie Glynn penned an open letter of support for Hager in 2018, stating that: "Through Mark's high expectations and low tolerance of complacency, this became ingrained in us as individuals and we were constantly striving for better performances and demanding more of ourselves in both trainings and in games – this essentially led us to being successful, strong and resilient as a group.
"We always had a positive and supportive team environment amongst players and our coaching staff. We did not feel bullied, mistreated, or that Mark was playing mind games with us."
The fact she was offered a coaching role in the team months later surprised many.
"With Katie we feel that we have an excellent coach with a proven track record that complements the rest of the Black Sticks coaching set up well," Bignell said.
"During that time [of the Dew report], many people shared their experiences, both publicly and more anonymously in the review process and we respect everyone's right to do that. It was an open but confidential process.
"It has been very important to HNZ that going forward, no one should be disadvantaged in selection [or appointments] because of any role they may have played in the review process."
On the question of whether former Ireland coach Shaw has the full support of the programme, Bignell said: "The players and management team are unified and clear in their purpose. Graham has an open, collaborative style, and as with any large group, this means robust debate at times. However, they have clear and aligned goals, and are working together to achieve these goals."
The Dew report came with 11 recommendations under four terms of reference that covered operational aspects at HNZ, increased engagement with players, implementation of policies and procedures and the enhancement of health and safety measures.
The Herald heard complaints that not enough of the recommendations had been implemented.
Bignell said although "some actions have unfortunately taken longer to complete than we would have hoped", many had been including a strengthened induction programme, policies and procedure training, team-building camps, the appointment of a female manager, player exit interviews and regular meetings between the players' association, High Performance Sport NZ and HNZ.
The Herald contacted the New Zealand Hockey Players' Association executive manager Glen Sulzberger but he referred all comment to Hockey New Zealand.