A review into NZ Football reveals 12 Football Ferns players said they would not play for the Ferns again if Andreas Heraf, who faces allegations of bullying, remained coach.
In a report released this afternoon, the sport's governing body found that New Zealand Football had to share some responsibility as complaints raised by some of the Football Ferns players were genuine and "largely substantiated".
The report was launched after complaints about former Football Ferns coach Andreas Heraf by players, and then growing concerns about the culture within parts of the set-up. The independent review was established to look into the conduct and culture of the governing body.
The review by Phillipa Muir - a leading employment lawyer and partner at Simpson Grierson - found that Heraf had "breached New Zealand Football's Code of Conduct, Human Resources policy on harassment and WorkSafe New Zealand's bullying guidelines".
Read the full report here:
It said 12 players - including some of the team's most senior and experienced members - said they would not play for the Ferns again if Heraf stayed on as coach.
"They all said that this was incredibly hard stance to take, as playing football for their country is their number one goal," said the review.
"They were prepared to put their careers as international players on the line over this."
Ms Muir said in her view the players' stance was "brave" and it showed just how strained the relationships had become.
She said that she found the complaints from the 12 players were "genuine and largely substantiated".
Heraf's behaviour was repeated, and had a "detrimental effect" on staff and players, the report said.
Ms Muir's review said that the governing body shared responsibility because it did not investigate concerns raised by staff following team tours, with complaints "ignored or downplayed".
NZ Football had also not sufficiently supported Heraf when he came to New Zealand from overseas, the review said.
"While grassroots football and the relevant programmes delivered by New Zealand Football appear to be in great shape, I have significant concerns around the High Performance environment and some of NZ Football's structure, processes and resourcing, in particular in Human Resources and recruitment," Ms Muir said in a statement.
"There has not been sufficient focus by the organisation on player welfare, particularly for its High Performance teams, in recent years."
Ms Muir said that her review should not be seen as a criticism of "robust coaching" in a high-performance sports environment.
"Coaches (like all people managers) are entitled to address poor performance (or a lack of commitment) and to drive better performance, through strict and high standards, so long as it is done in a fair manner.
"You would expect that in this environment."
She said all the Football Ferns said they were receptive to a new coach with high standards.
"However, it was "how" this was done, not "why" that is relevant here. In my view, Mr Heraf crossed that line on a number of occasions on the Tours."
In her review, she sets out the growing success of football in New Zealand; girls and women's football is growing strongly, futsal is booming, there are 2500 registered referees and 4000 registered coaches in 2017.
NZ Football President Deryck Shaw apologised to all the individual players who complained. He said that he would meet them personally as soon as possible to discuss the review findings.
"On behalf of the executive committee of New Zealand Football we apologise to our players for the conduct of the former Head Coach of the Football Ferns and failings in the organisation that led to this review. We are deeply sorry that these events occurred and for the distress caused."
Mr Shaw said that New Zealand Football will implement the findings and recommendations of the review.
"We are committed to working with players and staff to improve player welfare, and to rebuild trust and engagement among players, staff and key football stakeholders."
The review suggested 22 areas of improvement ranging from dealing with Football Ferns complaints to player welfare, culture, the governing body's processes, diversity issues and governance.
The review initially centred around the national women's side - after 13 players made complaints about the team environment under Heraf.
The scope was expanded when further complaints were received about the conduct of New Zealand Football.
Heraf and chief executive Andy Martin - the review's two central figures - confirmed their immediate departure from the organisation once the review got underway.
The investigation was set to be completed by the end of August, but that timeline was extended as Ms Muir spoke to more than 80 people within the football community.
The players' official complaints followed the fallout from the Football Ferns' recent loss to Japan in Wellington, when Heraf made controversial and negative comments post-match about the quality of his players and their inability to match the Japanese.