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PART 2 | The game plan: Who is responsible for investigating a complaint?

Australian sport finds itself grappling with a wave of integrity and misconduct allegations both on and off the field.

In recent weeks alone, numerous incidents have come to light, including a racist slur made by an NRL player towards another player during the season opening match, and legal action by several former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders players against the AFL citing a failure to prevent racial abuse. Both the AFL and Football Australia have also responded to out-of-hours misconduct allegations involving prominent athletes in their respective codes.

Understanding the distinction between a complaint covered by the National Integrity Framework (Framework) and one that falls outside of the Framework is crucial for sporting organisations as this may impact their duty to investigate a complaint.

A complaint raised directly to a sporting organisation that falls within the Framework must be referred to Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) for investigation, whereas a complaint that falls outside the scope of the Framework must be investigated directly by the sporting organisation.

In this second article, we will explore:

  • when does the Framework apply to a complaint?
  • when is a complaint not covered by the Framework?
  • what if it’s not clear if a complaint is covered by the Framework?
  • what steps should a sporting organisation take if it receives a complaint?
When does the Framework apply to a complaint?

At its core, an allegation of a sports integrity breach under the Framework involves actions that undermine the fairness, transparency, and credibility of sports competitions. Integrity breaches encompass a wide range of activities that not only violate the rules and regulations of sporting bodies but also erode public trust and confidence in the integrity of the sport itself. The Framework applies when:

  • a sport – either a National Sporting Organisation (NSO) or a National Sporting Organisation for People with Disability (NSOD) – has adopted the Framework. We covered which sports are covered by the Framework in our first article
  • the alleged conduct that is the subject of the complaint occurred after the sport adopted the Framework
  • the alleged behaviour falls within the meaning of ‘Prohibited Conduct’ under one of the Framework’s policies (further details of which were also covered in our first article)
  • the complaint is raised by a ‘Relevant Person’, which includes athletes, coaches, administrators, officials (e.g. referees) and paid or volunteer support personnel.

The types of complaints covered by the Framework include abuse, victimisation, harassment, unlawful discrimination, bullying and sexual misconduct in the course of the sport (as distinct from an employment relationship), the use of or supply of prohibited or illegal drugs, doping, bribery and competition manipulation, among others.

For example a complaint could involve:

  • an umpire making a racist remark towards an athlete during a match
  • verbal abuse by a club member towards a child during a sports training session
  • a sports club official asking a club volunteer a sexually explicit question about their life
  • an athlete using a prohibited substance to enhance their performance
  • a coach accepting a monetary payment to influence the outcome of a game.
When is a complaint not covered by the Framework?

There are several notable exclusions under the Framework, including:

  • complaints relating to matters such as personal grievances, issues related to employment, governance, eligibility and selection disputes, and competition-related rules
  • complaints relating to behaviour that occurred before a sport adopted the Framework
  • complaints to a sporting organisation which is not an organisation covered by the Framework.

Such complaints fall outside of SIA’s remit and must be investigated directly by a sporting organisation to ensure the organisation discharges its duties. Some elite sports, depending on the code, may also have sport-specific integrity units. However, the majority of grass roots, club and state sports will be responsible for investigating the complaint directly.

Common scenarios where this might arise include:

  • a perceived or actual conflict of interest in relation to a sporting organisation’s board member
  • an athlete engaging in out-of-hours conduct that brings the organisation into disrepute
  • an allegation of discrimination raised by a coach against the sporting organisation in relation to a promotion opportunity
  • a personal grievance between two administrative support staff at the sporting organisation
  • historical allegations of sexual abuse by a coach towards several athletes that occurred prior to a sport adopting the Framework.
What if it’s not clear if a complaint is covered by the Framework?

It may not always be clear whether a complaint is covered by the Framework and in some circumstances a complaint may be covered by both the Framework and a sporting organisation’s policies. SIA has resources to assist sporting organisations understand the application of the Framework. SIA also has direct reporting channels to which complaints covered by the Framework may be submitted. SIA may refer matters to an organisation if it determines that a complaint is not covered by the Framework.

What steps should a sporting organisation take if it receives a complaint?

1 | Document and Triage the Report: Document the details of the complaint and assess whether it is a matter for investigation, and if so, by SIA or the sporting organisation (through an internal or external investigator).

2 | Activate Reporting Mechanisms: Report allegation through appropriate channels as required depending on allegations raised, through either:

  • SIA, if the complaint is covered by the Framework; or
  • internal avenues in the sporting organisation such as legal, HR, complaints officer or whistleblowing hotlines, if the complaint is not covered by the Framework.

Be mindful of confidentiality obligations, particularly if the concerns could constitute a whistleblower complaint under legislation.

3 | Initiate an Investigation (if appropriate): If the complaint is not covered by the Framework and an investigation is deemed appropriate, promptly launch an impartial and thorough investigation into the reported integrity breach or misconduct. SIA may also request information or support from the sporting organisation if a complaint falls within its remit.

4 | Take Appropriate Corrective Actions: Based on investigation findings, communicate outcomes transparently (while maintaining appropriate confidentiality measures) and implement appropriate disciplinary measures if required.

5 | Review and Improve Policies and Procedures: Identify any gaps in existing policies and procedures and provide ongoing training to promote a culture of ethical conduct within the organisation.


Bookmark the Q Workplace Solutions page to follow our exploration of sports investigations in future articles:

PART 3 | Guidance for sporting boards and committees: Key considerations when addressing allegations of misconduct

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

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

More information

Q Workplace Solutions’ highly experienced team of legally trained investigators, who are trusted by top law firms, ASX-listed companies and public and private employers to investigate highly sensitive and complex matters, have documented their best practice approaches in the recognised professional bible, Workplace Investigations: Principles and Practice (2nd Edition).

They also run practical in-person and online structured workshops and bespoke training sessions that unpack how to conduct an effective workplace investigation as well as how to approach and conduct investigations into sexual harassment and whistleblower complaints.

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