The Monaro Panthers Football Club has labelled a decision by Capital Football to axe all their women’s and girls’ teams from the 2021 National Premier League Women’s (NPLW) competition “discouraging and extremely short-sighted”.
The decision was made late last week after all clubs in the league were invited to apply to field teams in all five divisions, from first grade to under-13s.
Following a series of meetings between Capital Football committees and club presidents in August and September, the new structure was announced for the NPL women’s and girls’ competitions on 2 October, which would be reduced from nine to eight teams.
Capital Football said in a statement that this would provide “parity across leagues and genders, with all Capital Football NPL competitions consisting of an eight-team format with three rounds, providing five extra games for our most talented female footballers”.
There were 16 matches in 2019 NPLW season, while 21 will be played in the 2021 season.
However, Capital Football rejected Monaro Panthers’ application which was based on results during the past three seasons, fielding teams in all age grades, any forfeits, coaches’ qualifications, as well as the club’s commitment to developing football across Canberra and the region.
Monaro Panthers’ co-president Anthony Nicoletti said more than 75 women and girls will now be looking for a new club to play with and he fears players will be lost to other sports such as Australian football, rugby league or netball.
“This decision is discouraging and extremely short-sighted,” Mr Nicoletti said. “It is an extremely disappointing decision, not just for Monaro Panthers, but for football in the region.”
“Monaro Panthers is more than a club catering to a few suburbs. It’s a club for an entire region and beyond, with backing at all levels of government, millions of dollars going to local facilities and incredible wider community support.
“We have players at all age grades within the Premier League structure who travel throughout our region to come and play with the Panthers such as from Goulburn, Bega, Batemans Bay, Braidwood and Bungendore amongst others, and this decision will deny them that access.”
Mr Nicoletti said the decision has far-reaching consequences for participation levels with those players now denied a place to play in the Canberra competition ahead of Australia hosting the Women’s World Cup in 2023.
He said the club had partnered with the Brindabella Blues FC to bolster numbers and provide a stronger pathway for girls in the region, but it appears that carried no weight with the decision made by Capital Football.
Even Member for Monaro John Barilaro and federal member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain both hit out at Capital Football’s decision to cut Monaro Panthers, saying it was a massive kick in the guts for the club and its young players.
“I’m absolutely dumbfounded by Capital Football’s decision to remove the Monaro Panthers women’s side from its league. This is a massive blow for grassroots football and women’s sport in our region,” Mr Barilaro said.
“I understand that the Monaro Panthers is currently considering their legal options. However, I’m asking Capital Football to reverse this decision immediately.”
With no appeal process offered, Mr Nicoletti said the Panthers will continue to move forward and will seek to overturn the ruling.
“Monaro Panthers can assure all of our current female players and those looking to join our progressive and visionary footballing family, that their football dreams and aspirations will not be negatively impacted in the face of this bewildering and highly concerning decision,” he said.
Capital Football CEO Phil Brown said the decision was a competitive process and he thanked all the clubs for their efforts in submitting applications for the 2021 season.
“The eight-team format with three rounds across each of our NPL competitions will deliver competitive and challenging matches that will showcase a very high level of football. We will now turn our attention to preparing to deliver the 2021 NPL competitions,” Mr Brown said.
The eight teams in the NPLW competition are Belconnen United, Gungahlin United, Canberra Croatia, Tuggeranong United, Canberra Olympic, Wagga City Wanderers, Canberra United Academy and West Canberra Wanderers (which changed its name from Woden Weston FC).