Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie has recently announced the Federal Government’s response to the Review of Australia’s Sports Integrity Arrangements, chaired by James Wood (‘the Wood Review’). The Wood Review, released in August 2018, highlighted a number of integrity-related issues in Australian sport and made a total of 52 recommendations aimed at maintaining public trust and confidence in Australian sport at all levels.
As part of the Federal Government’s response to the Wood Review, a powerful new sports integrity regime has been announced, which included the establishment of Sport Integrity Australia and the National Sports Tribunal.
Sport Integrity Australia
Amongst the 52 recommendations, the Wood Review recommended the establishment of a National Sports Integrity Commission (‘NSIC’), being a centralised body established to develop intelligence and law-enforcement capabilities, aimed at connecting Commonwealth and State and Territory agencies in order to facilitate efficient and decisive responses to integrity matters in sport. The Federal Government endorsed this recommendation recently in announcing the establishment of Sport Integrity Australia, which is due to begin operating by July 2020.
The Wood Review recommended that Sport Integrity Australia ought to have three main areas of focus, being the regulation of sports betting, the monitoring and investigation of doping activity and the provision of education and assistance to sports in order for them to develop their own policies aimed at maintaining integrity in sport.
The creation of Sport Integrity Australia will involve the consolidation of the roles and powers of numerous sporting integrity bodies including ASADA, the National Integrity of Sport Unit and the national sports integrity functions of Sport Australia. It will also work closely with external organisations, including the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The Wood Review was somewhat critical of ASADA’s ability to effectively address current and foreseeable future challenges to doping, without undergoing significant reform. It is therefore anticipated that under any new reforms, ASADA may be given increased investigative powers in order to combat doping in sport as part of the fight to maintain integrity in sport, and that ASADA will work much more closely with law enforcement agencies than it has in the past.
In an effort to easily receive intelligence on matters threatening integrity in sport, the Government also announced that it will work towards developing a whistle-blower protection service so that sports integrity information can be reported to Sport Integrity Australia freely and confidentially.
The National Sports Tribunal
The Federal Government also announced the establishment of the National Sports Tribunal in order to provide an accessible tribunal for all sports in Australia for the hearing of sports disputes, including integrity-related disputes. It will be aimed at providing a cost and time-efficient method of resolving disputes and will be piloted for a period of two years.
The Wood Review recommended that the Tribunal be comprised of three divisions, being:
- An Anti-Doping Division;
- A General Division; and
- An Appeals Division.
It recommended that the Anti-Doping Division of the Tribunal be a default avenue for the hearing of anti-doping rule violation matters in sport and that individual sports with their own internal tribunal systems ought to be able to apply to the NSIC to opt out of having doping disputes heard at the National Sports Tribunal, should they instead wish to have such disputes heard internally. The General Division, on the other hand, is recommended to be set up on an opt-in basis and will hear integrity and other disputes.
The Wood Review identified that there were inconsistencies in dispute resolution arrangements in the sports industry and it is hoped that the establishment of the National Sports Tribunal will provide a consistent dispute resolution service for all sports. The National Sports Tribunal will particularly help smaller, lesser-resourced, sports which do not have their own internal dispute resolution system.
The Federal Government has taken a positive step in the fight to protect the integrity of Australian sport in announcing the establishment of Sport Integrity Australia and the National Sports Tribunal. While both are in the very early days of development, it will be interesting to observe how these new bodies anticipate and respond to sports integrity matters moving forward.
While we have recently seen high profile integrity-related matters in sport including the ‘Sandpapergate’ ball-tampering fiasco in Australian Cricket in 2018 which resulted in suspensions to David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, plus the investigation into trainer Darren Weir in the sport of Horse Racing, integrity issues threaten all levels of sport, not just top-level professional sport. In February, two people were charged by Victoria Police after an 18-month investigation into allegations of match-fixing in the National Premier Soccer League, relating to an under-20’s second division match.
Integrity processes are therefore crucial for the continued existence and ongoing success of sport in Australia. They assist to provide a fair playing ground for participants, clarity of expectations of investigative and integrity staff, and confidence for stakeholders. Integrity-related policies ought to be comprehensively drafted, frequently reviewed, and consistently applied. Board members and senior management personnel within sporting organisations have an obligation to oversee and appropriately develop such integrity frameworks and ought to be proactive in this role.
For advice on how your organisation can prevent matters threatening the integrity of your sport, or advice on how to run integrity investigations in line with best practice, please contact SportsLawyer at email@example.com or on (03) 9642 0435.
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