Football Ferns get major blow to their Tokyo Olympics preparations as important players held back by their NWSL clubs.
As most Olympic football teams have assembled and travelled to Japan, the Football Ferns are still missing significant parts of their squads.
Football Ferns coach Tom Sermanni has expressed his frustration with two National Women’s Soccer League clubs denying his request to have their contracted Ferns released early for Olympic preparations.
The clubs in question, the Orlando Pride and the North Carolina Courage, were well within their rights to keep their players over the weekend, in this case Ali Riley and Abby Erceg.
Clubs are only required to release contracted players for international duty during FIFA designated windows.
Only Canada and USWNT allocated NWSL players, who are allocated by their federations to the league, do not need to abide by these window requirements as it is their federations and not their clubs who own their contract.
All other players, including club contracted US international players, can be kept by their clubs outside of any FIFA designated windows. The upcoming window for the Olympic Games only starts on July 12, 2021.
What makes this situation quite striking though is that all international Olympic bound players were released early by their NWSL clubs for Olympic preparations.
In fact, Sam Mewis, Erceg’s teammate on the Courage, left for the USWNT camp two weeks ago despite the fact that she is not allocated by her federation and instead has a contract directly with the North Carolina Courage like Erceg.
Both the Pride and Courage squads have also let their Brazilian internationals leave early after a request was made by their federation.
When speaking about the situation Sermanni, who used to be head coach of the Orlando Pride, told ESPN: “It’s outrageous.”
“These athletes are all going to the same major tournament and those clubs have released every single Olympic athlete except for the New Zealanders. It's unprofessional, unethical and shows a complete lack of respect for the players and New Zealand football. In fact, it reeks of discrimination.”
"We asked back in May if we could have our players available by this weekend and were told that these two clubs would not be releasing them. Then I see pictures of the two Brazilian players from the same clubs, on their way to Tokyo, and it makes my blood boil.”
"Marta and Debinha may be important to the Brazil team but Ali and Abby are crucial to the New Zealand team and this suggests that North Carolina Courage and Orlando Pride are dismissing New Zealand football as unimportant as opposed to Brazil being of more importance. It is completely disrespectful.”
While both clubs responded by saying that no discrimination had occurred, that they had each done a careful evaluation of the release requested and were within their rights to wait until the FIFA required release dates, the differential treatment of Kiwi players is questionable.
At present the team centre back, Abby Erceg, and team captain, Ali Riley, are not expected to arrive in Japan until Monday. This will give them less than 48 hours to recuperate from a 16 hour flight and 13 hour time difference ahead of the Football Ferns’ only Olympic preparation game.
The match will be held against Great Britain on July 14, 2021. The Football Ferns have not played together since before the pandemic. This will be the first game for the Kiwis in over 16 months.
They open their Olympic tournament in Group G on July 21 against the Matildas.