One of Australia’s most outspoken football advocates is being sued by two senior administrators in a move her supporters say is “spurious”.
- Bonita Mersiades is being sued by Football Queensland’s chairman and CEO over an article she published on her website earlier this year
- Ms Mersiades has received a statement of support from a group of former Socceroos known as The Golden Generation
- She has previously worked for Football Federation Australia as a corporate and public affairs manager
Bonita Mersiades is being sued by Football Queensland (FQ) chairman Ben Richardson and its CEO, Robert Cavallucci, for a total of $800,000 over an article she published in January this year on her website Football Today.
In a statement on a GoFundMe page set up to help pay her legal fees, Ms Mersiades wrote: “The article in question set out a series of sequential facts, based on evidence in my possession. It drew no conclusion and made no allegations of wrongdoing against either man.”
Mr Richardson and Mr Cavallucci claim the allegations are untrue.
Ms Mersiades has received a statement of support from a group of former Socceroos known as The Golden Generation, which includes John Aloisi, Lucas Neill, Craig Moore and Mark Viduka.
The article alleged Mr Richardson was last year paid $44,000 for two month’s work by FQ, via his own recruiting company, to conduct what it said in a media statement was “a rigorous competitive recruitment process” to find a new CEO.
In November, the position was given to Mr Cavallucci, who until then was a board member of FQ.
The payment to Mr Richardson was detailed in FQ’s financial statement for last year, which noted: “Payments of $40,000 (plus GST) was made to a company associated with Mr Ben Richardson for services rendered over a two-month period.”
Ms Mersiades’s article claimed the CEO salary package for Mr Cavallucci was $320,000, which was $150,000 more than was paid to his predecessor, Richard Griffiths.
Mr Richardson and Mr Cavallucci demanded Ms Mersiades take down the story, which she refused to do.
In June, both men began defamation proceedings against Ms Mersiades in the District Court of Queensland, claiming the article was false and defamatory. Each man sought $400,000 in damages.
The Golden Generation put out a statement earlier this month saying: “We urge the Board of Football Queensland to drop this spurious defamation action against Bonita or be forever condemned for failing to put football first.
“Australian football needs passionate football people,” the statement said.
Ms Mersiades is defending the action and has filed a defence arguing that the claims in the article were true, honestly held opinions and in the public’s interest.
She is the former corporate and public affairs manager for Football Federation Australia.
Ms Mersiades was sacked in 2010, 10 months before Australia’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, which was subsequently awarded to Qatar.
She wrote a book on her investigations into the bid process, which was published in 2018.
One of her supporters is the former owner of the sporting goods company Skins, Jaimie Fuller, who now describes himself as a campaigner for sports ethics and who said he had known Ms Mersiades for seven years.
“She has an immense reputation, not just in Australia but internationally, as one of the key people involved in bringing down the (former FIFA president) Sepp Blatter regime,” Mr Fuller said.
“For the response to be out of the bullying playbook … on a lady who’s been there and done that and then spat out the other side — is alarming and bizarre, frankly.”
Another supporter, Rabieh Krayem, set up the GoFundMe page that has so far raised $13,700 to help pay for Ms Mersiades’s legal bills.
Mr Krayem is the volunteer president of the Wynnum Wolves Football Club in Brisbane and was the former chairman of the Australian Association of Football Clubs.
“I think what has resonated is that they (the donors) have seen someone like Bonita Mersiades, who for her whole life has volunteered towards the cause of the game,” he said.
The ABC invited Football Queensland to comment on the issues raised in this story, but received no reply.