Sports officials warned to act on abuse complaints … or else
Sports officials warned to act on abuse complaints … or else

Sport officials on notice to act on abuse

Taxpayer-funded sporting bodies that don't properly investigate or act on serious integrity issues - including child abuse, intimidation and bullying - have been put on notice their days are nearly up.

In a major escalation of the government's crackdown on sporting organisations sweeping things under the carpet, Canberra is preparing seismic changes to the way serious complaints are dealt with.

Key among those is persuading sporting bodies to hand over investigations to fully independent outsiders instead of running their own inquiries - an issue that has reared its head during the current Hockey Australia (HA) scandal.

While HA has commenced what it describes as an independent review into the "toxic culture" of the women's high-performance program, there are serious concerns in Canberra about just how transparent that process really is.

The Daily Telegraph understands HA turned down an offer for a fully independent inquiry by instead appointing its own panel.

Incredibly - there are no women on the investigating panel - while the two men who were appointed to hear the inquiry both have close links to senior HA board members.

That's exactly what the federal government wants to stop by introducing strict new rules to deal with sporting bodies that haven't got the memo.

Canberra has already shown it is willing to cut funding from errant sports that don't get their act together and is now ramping things up even further.

As part of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook to be revealed on Thursday, the government is chipping in $13.7 million to enable independent bodies to step in and investigate serious complaints that sporting bodies should no longer be allowed to handle internally.

"This is an important measure to ensure a high level of independence if and when an inquiry is sought," Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck said.

"We know how important that can be and will ensure sporting bodies do not become a law unto themselves."


Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck says sporting bodies must ensure a high level of independence when investigating serious claims. Picture: NCA NewsWire
Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck says sporting bodies must ensure a high level of independence when investigating serious claims. Picture: NCA NewsWire

The government has agreed that $10.1 million will be given to Sport Integrity Australia so that it can introduce an independent complaints handling process that will commence operations from March 2021.

The remaining $3.6 million will go to the National Sports Tribunal (NST), which was created to resolve disputes through mediation, arbitration and conciliation.

Initially funded through to 2022, the NST is getting extra cash to continue for another 12 months as more and more integrity cases emerge from everything to harassment, bullying and child abuse, illicit drugs, manipulating outcomes and code of conduct issues.

"Australians should have confidence in the integrity of sport at all levels," Colbeck said.

"They should have confidence that integrity matters will be handled both independently and fairly. This program is designed to help sports meet those expectations."

While hockey is not specifically mentioned, the message to the sport could not be clearer after two dozen past and present players and staff came forward in the past few weeks to accuse officials of turning a blind eye to serious complaints about the way the women's elite program has been run over the past decade.

The deeply disturbing claims include reports of body-shaming, bullying and intimidation.

They have led to players developing serious eating disorders, self-harming and quitting the sport.

National sporting bodies in Canberra are understood to have grave concerns about the way HA plans to investigate the players' complaints given that the sport's funding is provided by the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

HA has already announced that the full findings will be kept secret while alarm bells have been raised about whether the investigation can be viewed as fully independent.

Richard Redman and Adam Carel are handling the investigation.

Redman currently manages the AIS Conduct & Professionalism team.

HA chief executive Matt Favier is a former AIS director while Toni Cumpston, HA's high-performance director, is also a former AIS employee.

Carel is a partner with Ernst and Young.

HA's finance director Bryan Zekulich was a partner at the same firm fr 27 years while Rob Dalton, the acting chief executive at Sport Australia, was also a senior partner at Ernst and Young.

There is no suggestion the pair won't carry out their duties independently.


Originally published as Sport officials on notice to act on abuse