Meet our Athlete Advisory Group
The Athlete Advisory Group will inform Sport Integrity Australia’s strategic direction and shape education strategies through their insights into the pressures and influences that can threaten the integrity of sport.
Here we look at why each member is so passionate about their work with the AAG.
ATHLETE CHAIR - BRONWEN DOWNIE
Olympian and 2x World Rowing Champion
Bronwen Downie says that building sporting environments where athletes can raise integrity issues with impunity is central to her aspirations for the Athlete Advisory Group.
“I am most passionate about creating environments in sport where athletes are able to be their full and best selves, and through that, have a wonderfully rich and rewarding experience in sport,” Downie says.
“This has a lot to do with creating training and performance environments that are emotionally, psychologically and physically safe. Environments where athletes feel they can safely speak up with concerns or questions, particularly on integrity matters, without fear of punishment or reprisal.”
Downie says that athletes are facing numerous challenges around the reporting of integrity issues, which can have negative impacts on health and wellbeing.
“Athlete wellbeing through any reporting or sanctioning process is critical. Not just for the longevity of the athlete’s contribution to a sport, but for that individual’s long-term wellbeing and mental health post sport,” she says.
“To speak up and report an integrity matter can be scary, particularly when no one else seems to be willing to. Concerns about being dropped from a team, fears of being somehow ostracised in the sport, or being labelled as the 'athlete who complained' are big barriers - whether real or imagined.
“Getting the message out to athletes on what constitutes an integrity matter, how to report it, and where the support will be during and afterwards is a big piece of the puzzle in making [the process of] addressing and dealing with integrity matters easier for athletes.”
With over 15 years of experience playing water polo at the highest level, the dual Olympic bronze medallist Bronwen Knox has a profound understanding of the concerns facing athletes, and says she intends to use her position in the Athlete Advisory Group to bring them to the forefront of decision making.
“My hope is to bring strength to the athletes’ voice, especially those who are disheartened or discouraged to speak up and raise concerns about how sports operate,” Knox says. “Too often bad behaviour and issues around integrity are excused as ‘well, that's just sport’. This is an outdated view and athletes need to feel supported and protected when speaking up.”
She says athletes, especially amateur athletes, are often at the bottom of most power imbalances within sport, under-resourced and unsure where to seek independent advice.
“We need to hear what the athletes are saying, where the process is not doing the industry justice and make sport better and more sustainable for all those who are engaged with it.”
Former AFL player
Eric Mackenzie, who played 147 games for the Eagles, says he’s looking forward to working with other members of the Athlete Advisory Group to safeguard the future of Australian sport for generations to come.
“This group has varying backgrounds, opinions and strengths from across the sports ecosystem but specifically when it comes to integrity matters,” Mackenzie says. “For us to open the conversation about the issues facing the current generation of Australian athletes will go a long way to assist the future generations.”
The 2014 John Worsfold Medallist brings not only his experience as an athlete to the group, but also his experience as an ambassador to the International Testing Agency and as a players’ delegate to the AFL Players Association.
Mackenzie says some of the biggest integrity challenges facing athletes today stem from increased accessibility to athletes in modern sport.
“Sport is consumed in many different ways these days, and this is only increasing,” he says. “While this access provides athletes great opportunities to leverage their image and popularity it also carries risks. Athletes can be caught in compromising situations which can be used against them.”
Cassie Fien will use her role as a member of Sport Integrity Australia’s Athlete Advisory Group to help improve athlete education, particularly around the dangers of supplements to an athlete’s career.
“I want to be a voice for athletes so issues and concerns are addressed,” she says, “and help to educate athletes in a language they understand, with the most updated information and guidance in relation to integrity in sport.”
Fien will bring not only her experience as an elite competitor to the table, but also her experience as a sanctioned athlete. In 2017, Fien served a nine-month ban after testing positive for a prohibited substance found in a supplement she was taking.
“I am passionate about helping to educate athletes about the dangers of supplement use,” she says.
“As an athlete, the goal is to get the best out of yourself each and every day. Marketing and advertising for supplement use is bigger than it has ever been. The problem is, supplements don't always contain what they say they do, which is extremely dangerous and can result in an athlete inadvertently testing positive for a prohibited substance.”
With an incredible 17 Paralympic medals and an Order of Australia Medal, Ellie Cole is one of Australia’s most accomplished Paralympians. She says she chose to join the Group to help provide a safe, fair and inclusive environment for athletes from grassroots all the way to elite sport.
“As athletes we have a wealth of lived experience to provide to Sport Integrity Australia,” Cole says.
“The biggest challenge in this space is for athletes to have a comprehensive understanding of what currently threatens integrity,” she says. “Sport Integrity Australia do a fantastic job in educating its members on what these threats look like and how to mitigate these threats.”
When it comes to sport integrity Cole, who is also an Executive Member of the Australian Swimmers Association, is most passionate about member protection.
“I have a particular interest in protecting members of sporting organisations from bullying, intimidation, harassment and discrimination,” she says.
With over 15 years of experience weightlifting at the highest levels, the Commonwealth Games medallist and two-time Olympian Damon Kelly says his main motivation for joining the AAG is to make sure everyone has the same chance and there is a level playing field for all sports.
“All sports should be fun,” Kelly says, “that is why we play it and that’s what will bring in the next generation of athletes wearing the green and gold.”
He believes the biggest challenge athletes face at the moment relates to the global reach of sporting competitions and the ability for people who may not have athletes’ best interests at heart to offer temptations.
“Athletes of any level can be open to fans, followers and influencers … being an athlete is a pressure cooker environment and it’s much easier to have temptations offered and in many different ways,” he says.
“I am most passionate about clean sport,” Kelly continues, “Any boy or girl who takes up sport should be able to be world a world champion one day. It shouldn’t depend on which country or association you are from, it should only depend on their passion, hard work and dedication.”
Jonathan Goerlach, who is passionate about contributing to the protection of sport, says he wants to ensure representation of fellow athletes’ voices.
“I want to be part of the Athlete Advisory Group to be part of being the athlete voice, especially for those who haven’t found their voice yet,” Goerlach says. “I hope to utilise my experience, knowledge and skills to help sporting organisations achieve successful outcomes in the competitive world of sport.”
Goerlach says it’s a great time to get involved behind the scenes in sport, particularly with the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brisbane in 2032.
Australian Opals captain
Determined to make a difference on and off the court, Opals captain Jenna O’Hea has joined Sport Integrity Australia’s Athlete Advisory Group to empower, support and campaign for athletes.
With more than 15 years of professional basketball experience at a local, national and international level, O’Hea has experienced her fair share of ups and downs. Nine years between her first and second Olympics are testament to that.
“I want to leave the sport better than I found it,” she says. “As much as I am living out my dreams, there have been some really hard times and setbacks that I didn’t really imagine.”
O’Hea, who is also a Lifeline ambassador, wants to see a focus on mental health.
“I am extremely passionate about mental health and wellbeing for athletes and the wider community, and have a strong desire to make a difference in this area, and will continue to pursue this long after my professional playing career.”
Represented Australia in Rugby League
Katrina Fanning is a rugby league pioneer.
The most capped female player in the world when she retired, Fanning has spent her career advocating for Indigenous pathways and women in sport.
“I am passionate about integrity in sport and have worked hard to support the advancing women in sport, especially rugby league, and to create pathways for Indigenous players, on and off the field.”
She is a Board member at the Canberra Raiders and Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council and was the 2020 ACT Australian of the Year.
A former trampolinist, Blake Gaudry hopes his role in the Athlete Advisory Group will advance the voice of athletes within the agency.
The 11-time National Champion says he’ll use his voice to represent all athletes.
“I strongly believe in the importance of achieving an inclusive but, more importantly, a fair and transparent process for all athletes,” Gaudry says.
However, he says the responsibility for this lies across all parties.
“I firmly believe in the importance of athlete representatives and their significant influence in championing the voices of all athletes.”
Former NRL player
Tom Symonds is a strong advocate for athletes.
Symonds, who played 87 NRL games and 12 games in the UK Super League, is currently the Players Operations Manager at Rugby League Players Association.
“I’m part of the Athlete Advisory Group because I’m passionate about athlete advocacy and wellbeing,” he says. “Engaging athletes in a meaningful way is not only fair, but can be highly valuable when seeking positive change in sport.”
Retired netball player
Netballer Sam Poolman brings her experience, both as an athlete and administrator, to the Athlete Advisory Group.
An Australia Netball Players Association board member and director of Aspire Netball, Poolman is motivated to “be a voice for athletes, working with, creating discussion and finding solutions” with other representatives and stakeholders.
“I’m passionate about our sport and community that has given so much to me during my career,” she says. “With strong relationships with local associations, academies and Netball NSW, l have an understanding of all levels within our sport.”