Nicki Flannery injury raises questions over Matildas talent identification camp

A season-ending injury to W-League star Nicki Flannery during the most recent Matildas talent identification camp in Sydney has raised questions over how Australia's best women footballers have been contractually supported by Football Australia in their own high-performance environment.

ESPN has learned that players who accepted FA's invitation to participate in last week's camp, which was framed by the governing body as a reward for outstanding W-League seasons, were not offered national team contracts that would have guaranteed them a certain minimum payment and other protections enshrined in the CBA, including insurance against loss of income due to missing work.

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The 26 players called up to the camp -- many of whom study or work second jobs outside of their football -- were given less than a week to accept the invitation and make alternative arrangements with their employers in order to participate. Some had to travel from interstate to Sydney's Valentine Sports Park for the four-day-long camp, which ran midweek from May 4 to May 7.

While players did sign contracts with Football Australia, sources told ESPN that these contracts are equivalent to those offered to junior national team players, meaning certain details regarding base payment and insurance are different from those included in senior national team contracts. Only the senior framework was collectively bargained for while the terms of the junior framework were set by Football Australia.

Sources told ESPN that these contractual differences resulted from the way in which the camp was classified. An FA spokesperson confirmed that the talent ID camps "are not substitutes for Westfield Matildas assemblies as conducted during FIFA windows," meaning FA are not obligated to offer players senior national team contracts -- which include minimum per diem payments and other CBA protections -- that such assemblies would require.

These differences may seem trivial at first, but an ACL injury sustained by Canberra United and APIA Leichhardt forward Flannery has thrown them into sharper relief. While the junior contract means Flannery is covered by medical insurance and a certain amount of income protection, it is unclear whether she will be out of pocket for further loss of income given she will now miss NPLW football and other work opportunities.

In addition, it is understood that payment to players for the most recent camp only occurred after discussions between FA and the players' union, Professional Footballers Australia, and was only finalised after the camp had officially begun on May 4.

The amount eventually offered to players, many of whom were already involved in youth and Future Matildas programs, was also less than the amount enshrined in the senior national team contracts, even though there were senior Matildas such as Lisa De Vanna, Alex Chidiac and Jenna McCormick involved. Players were not paid at all for the first talent ID camp held in November 2020.

PFA co-chief executive Kate Gill confirmed that the union "held discussions with FA regarding the players' contractual rights and obligations, including from a financial perspective, in the days prior to the assembly," however it is still not clear whether these discussions resulted in players being upgraded to the senior ("assembly") contracts by FA.

An FA spokesperson said: "Following the publishing of the women's Performance Gap report in December 2020, Football Australia has instituted initiatives to address the findings in relation to the development of future players.

"These initiatives have included Elite Matches for the Westfield Junior Matildas and Westfield Young Matildas, as well as the women's talent ID camps.

"Since their introduction, over 120 players have been invited to participate and have had the ability to engage, interact and be assessed in a high performance environment, as well as female coaches provided with professional development opportunities.

"As underpinning initiatives for the senior women's national team, they are designed to increase the number of players exposed to high intensity and high-performance environments to prepare them for potential inclusion in the senior national team assemblies.

"This was an underpinning talent ID camp which involved Westfield Junior Matildas and Westfield Young Matildas and players identified off the back of strong performances in the Westfield W-League.

"All players participating in this talent ID camp are being remunerated."

While the broader point of FA hosting high performance camps to assess prospective and future Matildas is sound, the opaque nature of the contract situation and the delayed implementation of payments highlights the difficult and complex roads Australia's women footballers must continue to navigate -- and the considerable financial and personal sacrifices they must make -- as they pursue national team selection.