Sport Integrity Australia 12 months in

  • Integrity Blog

Sport Integrity Australia first opened its doors on 1 July 2020 at a time when the sporting landscape in Australia was unlike anything we’ve ever seen: COVID-19 was impacting sporting competitions and, indeed, their very survival was in doubt. This, coupled with growing global unrest around the treatment of athletes, presented challenges beyond comprehension. Here we look at how Sport Integrity Australia responded, and some key milestones for our first 12 months.

SHIFTING SANDS

When COVID-19 hit, sports had to adapt in order to survive, according to CEO David Sharpe, with many sports forced to cut costs and reduce staffing levels. 

“In context, Australia was in the midst of building and delivering a new sports integrity agency, and these issues impacted the very foundations the new agency were being built upon,” Sharpe says.

Sport Integrity Australia, one year on, is a very different agency to the one that opened its doors virtually in July 2020, he says.

“When we were establishing the agency, our focus was on consolidating the existing efforts of multiple agencies into one new organisation. That in itself can be a challenge, but within three months, so much in Australian sport changed so quickly, it was clear our role had to be broader than we initially planned. We had to adapt at a rapid pace none of us anticipated.”

A key development was the release of the Athlete A documentary which sparked allegations of abuse by coaches and other administrators towards gymnasts around the world, including Australia.

The resultant ripple effect of abuse claims within Australian sporting communities was unprecedented, he says.

Participants from “all levels of sport and a myriad of sporting organisations sought our assistance” to independently assess alleged breaches of sport integrity policies, from breaches of child safeguarding and member protection policies, to the improper use of drugs and medicine and sports wagering issues.

“This has shaped our development and defined who we are today,” he says. “Sport Integrity Australia is determined to ensure that no sport, indeed no athlete, will be left behind.”

He says a strong partnership between sporting bodies and Sport Integrity Australia, built on trust, is the only way forward in supporting athletes past, present and future.

“While our remit may have changed, our commitment to working in partnership with sports and athletes to protect the integrity of Australian sport – from elite competition right through to the grassroots level – has not.”

SUPPORTING DIVERSITY

Sport Integrity Australia understands the power of sport and its culture in the Australian psyche, however Sharpe believes the integrity of sport is challenged by the lack of female representation at CEO and Board level as “diversity of voice is critical to success”.

It is only through partnerships that we can correct this imbalance, he says, which is why we have collaborated with Sport Australia, the Minerva Network and Ducere to identify and explore the barriers that contributed towards a lack of female leadership positions in the sporting industry.

“For Australian sport to flourish there needs to be diversity of thought, and female CEOs in sport are drastically underrepresented. The objective of our collaboration is to ensure we play a vital role in influencing a blueprint for the future development and enhancement of women within sporting leadership positions and to establish a best practice globally, which is not only limited to sporting organisations.”

Sharpe says he is “proud” that 50 per cent of Sport Integrity Australia’s senior leadership group and 50 per cent of overall staff are women. Highlights for the year include our celebrations of International Women’s Day with swimming coach Tracey Menzies, National Reconciliation Week with UC Capitals star Abby Cubillo, a proud Larrakia woman from the Darwin region, and Play True Day with Sarah Cook, former rower, and now coach and administrator.

NATIONAL INTEGRITY FRAMEWORK

The roll out of the National Integrity Framework for sport in March 2021 supports a streamlined and coordinated policy framework for sport in Australia. This framework will be accompanied by education and support programs for sports to ensure that athletes and sports are afforded the highest level of protection, with independence being the key factor in managing complaints.

SAFEGUARDING SPORT

In partnership with the National Office for Child Safety, Sport Integrity Australia is working with sport to develop the Safeguarding in Sport Continuous Improvement Program, acknowledging that all sports are different,
with different governance models and at varying stages of their safeguarding journey. The Continuous Improvement Program will help each sport bring their Child Safeguarding and Member Protection policies to life, by providing tailored action plans for each level of sport, and a range of resources and support to help each sport. More information on the program will be available soon.

ANTI-DOPING

Sport Integrity Australia has been actively pursuing anti-doping reforms to address delays and improve the athlete experience. To that end, the agency has been instrumental in legislative reform in Australia, influencing changes to the World Anti-Doping Code subsequently implemented in 2021, and through internal end-to-end process reviews to ensure a more effective and efficient anti-doping process.

Sport Integrity Australia has also been working with the World Anti-Doping Agency and other leading agencies around the world to explore an alternative sample collection method – dried blood spot (DBS) collection. Sharpe says DBS could be a game-changer and this pilot program is “just another example of Sport Integrity Australia partnering with other industry leaders to help find better systems for athletes.”

SPORTS WAGERING

Sport Integrity Australia has also partnered with the Commonwealth Department of Social Services and Gambling Research Australia to commission two important research projects that will inform the development of the Australian Sports Wagering Scheme and broader sports wagering reform.

To date, more than 40 domestic and international stakeholders, including sporting organisations, wagering service providers and regulators, have been consulted to gather evidence for two research projects to understand the impact of distributing Australian sports data overseas, and the impact of online in-play betting markets overseas.

EMERGING THREATS

In June, the agency hosted a Sport Integrity Threats conference to develop a platform for intelligence sharing between Sport Integrity Australia and enforcement agencies. This will enable us to more effectively coordinate the sport integrity threat response.

While the agency targets existing threats, Sharpe says it is also focusing on emerging threats and emerging sports, like eSports. “eSports is a complex and rapidly growing industry and we are engaging with the industry to understand how we might aid the coordination of integrity responses within our current responsibilities and resourcing.”

Packaged with the new National Sports Tribunal, Australia’s response to integrity in sport is leading the way, he says. Sport Integrity Australia is the foundation of the Australian Government’s sport integrity strategy and “countries around the world are closely following Australia’s approach to integrity”.

* This article appeared in our Sport Integrity Matters magazine. You can read more here.