Banner Inner

News and Media

The way of thinking about “professional sport in Australia has probably been naïve”

  • 18/04/2018 9:07:00 AM
  • Return
The way of thinking about “professional sport in Australia has probably been naïve”

The way of thinking about “professional sport in Australia has probably been naïve”.

Despite global attention turning to the Australian sporting world for all the wrong reasons, due to the ball tampering scandal involving Australian cricket players that unravelled as fans watched the 2018 Test Series in South Africa, and criticisms voiced against the Football Federation Australia (‘FFA’) for alleged governance and financial transparency failures, and just as the Review of Australia’s Sports Integrity Arrangements was submitted to the Federal Government on 23 March 2018, experts dispute that there is a governance crisis in Australian sport. “I don’t think there is a crisis,” said John Mullins, Partner at Mullins Lawyers. “What has occurred is the realisation that the way we have thought about professional sport in Australia has probably been naïve. I anticipate that there will be an increased resolve by those that govern sport to change the way professional sport in played and administered to minimise the risk of these types of things happening again.”

In response to the ball tampering scandal that hit Australian cricket during the 2018 Test Series in South Africa, the
International Cricket Council (‘ICC’) commissioned a wide-ranging review into player behaviour, the spirit in which the game is played and the ICC Code of Conduct (‘ICC Review’) on 1 April 2018. In the press release announcing the ICC Review, ICC CEO, David Richardson, commented that the significant debate over recent weeks surrounding the behaviour of players and leniency or otherwise in the case of associated punishments presented “an opportune moment […] to shape what the game looks like […] and take a much broader look at the issues. We
want this review to be collaborative and have a long-term positive impact on the game […].” Paul Horvath, Principal at Paul Horvath Solicitors, believes that a sense of arrogance and a lack of strong leadership is one way that unintended laxity of policing in integrity can manifest itself in sport. “One theory is that arrogance has crept into cricket in Australia, and a win at all costs mentality seated in ballooning pay packets may have contributed to high risk taking activities such as ball tampering,” said Horvath. “This is generally a serious issue and provided the governance issues are addressed at a high level, the risks can be abated moving forward. We don’t want a reputation as a nation of sporting cheats. Cricket Australia’s substantial penalties in the ball tampering investigation show that this type of behaviour won’t be tolerated.”

Separately, FIFA’s Bureau of the Council established a Congress Review Working Group (‘CRWG’) for the FFA on 4 April 2018, whose main objective is to propose a new composition of the FFA Congress in response to governance concerns. In its press release on the matter FIFA stated that the purpose of the CRWG is to ensure a broader and more balanced representation of stakeholders in line with the requirements of the FIFA Statutes. “The relevant Article of the FIFA Statutes requires that the composition of legislative bodies is in accordance with the principles of representative democracy and takes into account the importance of gender equality in football. In theory, both of those are good things,” comments Allistar Twigg, Lawyer at Snedden Hall & Gallop. “However, in my view, they do not genuinely demonstrate the seriousness of the issues both on and off the pitch that FIFA and the ICC purport to examine. For example, in the case of FIFA, the Working Group for the FFA would attract more credibility if FIFA had its own house in order, particularly with respect to ethical matters. Its non-reappointment of various members of FIFA’s Ethics Committee was obvious and venal payback for the removal of various high profile office holders - Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and Jerome Valcke. FIFA’s intervention in its Australian member might be less cynically received as being in the best interests of the game if the other aspects of its operations were consistent with that intention. Why is FIFA only acting now? Answer: because it takes attention away from its own internal failings.”

Australians have always believed that professional sport is an extension of amateur sport and that good amateurs become professionals, and in doing so they act in a way that is consistent with the fine attributes of sport - competitiveness, commitment, loyalty, sportsmanship and integrity, thinks Mullins. “The expectation that professional sport always demonstrates these qualities is, I believe, unrealistic,” explains Mullins. “As the money in professional sport increases, it seems the temptation for players, organisations and administrators to act in a corrupt way also increases.”

In relation to where Australia goes from here, Catherine Ordway, Senior Consultant at Snedden Hall & Gallop, draws attention to the initiatives already underway in Australia. “The missteps by a number of highly paid, coveted and privileged professional male athletes do not represent the Australian population, or even Australian elite athletes generally. Hopefully initiatives, like the National Sports Plan, and the Review of Australia’s Sports Integrity Arrangements, will be released mid-year so Australian sport can continue to improve and innovate,” said Ordway. “I would reiterate that Australia also does not have a culture of corruption - although no one is immune, and every
country and every sport must remain vigilant. The challenge is to work with other countries to change their acceptance of corruption as a way of life. This is broader than sport, but sports organisations have their part to play in that respect. One key component is to more closely involve athletes in a meaningful way in the decision making in sport at every level.” The Review of Australia’s Sports Integrity Arrangements initiated by the Government in August 2017 as part of the development of Australia’s National Sport Plan represents the most comprehensive examination of Australia’s sports integrity arrangements ever undertaken and makes 52 recommendations. The Government will consider the findings and recommendations put forward, which are aimed at protecting the integrity and reputation of Australian sport. “Given the timing of ‘sandpapergate,’ I doubt they will have anticipated the issues in cricket, but the FFA governance issues may well have been considered as part of the Review,” concludes Ordway.

Click here for a pdf version of the article  WSAApril2018p3 or