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PART 1 | Out of bounds: Navigating integrity issues, misconduct investigations and cultural dynamics in sport

Australia is a passionate sporting nation. We love our teams and revere our athletes. The social values that sport embodies – such as fair play, teamwork and inclusivity – are central to our national culture and identity.

This public fervour intensifies the pressure on, and scrutiny of, the culture, behaviour and conduct of sporting organisations, teams and sports professionals. This attention can sometimes expose poor cultures and improper behaviours.

This article is the first in a series that will explore key topics essential for navigating sports integrity complaints, misconduct investigations and culture reviews in sporting organisations.

From high-profile scandals involving match-fixing and drug doping to instances of out-of-hours misconduct and systematic racism, the realm of sports is no stranger to often highly-publicised allegations of misconduct, poor culture, and integrity breaches.

But who bears the responsibility for investigating such concerns?

Upholding sports integrity in Australia

Following serious allegations of sexual assault in international gymnastics, and an independent review of integrity matters in Australian sport, Australia’s sports integrity framework underwent a significant overhaul in 2020, including the establishment of Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) as the central oversight body for the National Integrity Framework.

The National Integrity Framework, which comprises five key policies, sets guidelines for behaviour and conduct in sports, ensuring fairness and transparency. These policies cover areas such as safeguarding children, member protection regarding matters of bullying, abuse, harassment and victimisation, drug use, competition manipulation, and complaints resolution. SIA has the remit to investigate allegations relating to these topics.

Application of the National Integrity Framework

While around 90 Australian sporting bodies have adopted the National Integrity Framework since its inception, many organisations still operate outside its purview.

Moreover, the Framework’s scope is limited, excluding for example:

  • certain complaints of misconduct or poor culture arising within the employment context of athletes, coaches, or administrative members of sporting organisations
  • misconduct allegations involving members that do not occur directly in the course of sport.

These limitations can make it tricky for sporting organisations to navigate the application of the National Integrity Framework to their organisation, and to determine which policy or process might apply when a complaint arises. If the National Integrity Framework does not apply to a complaint, a sporting organisation may still have an obligation to investigate under its own policies or the law.

Recent changes in the law have introduced obligations on organisations to take proactive steps to reduce psychosocial risks and prevent sexual harassment. These obligations extend to unincorporated associations and not-for-profit organisations thereby capturing many sporting bodies.

These obligations have increased the importance for organisations to:

  • have a robust complaints and investigation process in place
  • investigate complaints in an impartial and prompt manner when necessary
  • enforce and uphold high standards of behaviour and culture.
Navigating the unique challenges of sporting organisations

Sporting organisations, who are often reliant on volunteers and limited funding, face unique challenges in responding to allegations of misconduct and cultural issues. Balancing the interest of a wide range of stakeholders, ranging from boards and media partners, to sponsors, fans, and members, adds further complexity to the decision-making process.

In this series, we will delve into key topics essential for navigating misconduct and cultural complaints in sporting organisations:

PART 2 | Integrity versus misconduct allegations: Determining the application of the National Integrity Framework

PART 3 | Guidance for sporting boards and committees: Key considerations when addressing allegations of misconduct, including considerations as to when an organisation needs to take action

PART 4 | Conducting effective workplace investigations: Strategies for impartial investigations in a sporting context and addressing unique challenges

PART 5 | The role of culture reviews: Understanding and implementing culture reviews in sports organisations.

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