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New National Sports Tribunal CEO Michelle Gallen aims to set the benchmark globally.

Taking stewardship of the National Sports Tribunal (NST) in September 2023, CEO Michelle Gallen has grand plans to establish the dispute resolution body as an internationally recognised leader in the space.

“I’d love to see the NST become a globally recognised benchmark for national sports dispute resolution,” Michelle says.

Holding a PhD in international sports law, the former President of Swimming Australia is no stranger to leadership roles, having served as a senior executive within the Queensland Government for seven years.

Her professional background includes roles with the Australian Sports Commission, Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority. She has been a member of the Australian Anti-Doping Rule Violation Committee, the World Aquatics Masters Technical Committee, Chair of Selectors, a Director of Triathlon Australia and Chair of the ACT Minister’s Sport and Recreation Advisory Council.

Michelle says that this experience has primed her for the new challenges that lay ahead.

Portrait of smiling National Sports Tribunal CEO Michelle Gallen

“Every leadership role has given me opportunity to grow and learn – sometimes more easily than others,” she says.

“Being President of Swimming Australia was an enormous honour but also really hard work – steering such a high-profile sport with such diversity of stakeholders honed a whole bunch of skills around engagement, media, crisis management and governance,” she adds.

“Bringing that experience to the NST helps me really understand what our sporting bodies are going through at times they might have a case before the Tribunal. My roles within various public sector agencies also help me to negotiate the legislative and government framework that surrounds the NST.

“Sometimes it feels like I’ve been preparing for this role for years without knowing it!”

As a former professional swimmer herself, Michelle says she can relate to the sacrifices and commitments that need to be made to perform at a high level.

“Swimming was my first love, and I was privileged enough to represent Australia internationally at a few events. My specialty was 1500m freestyle, so I got used to working very hard and definitely relied on my ability to push myself more than any innate talent,” she says.

Michelle says she uses that same degree of discipline and commitment to integrity in her professional endeavours today.

“My passion for sport integrity comes out of my days as a swimmer. I would have liked to achieve more, but I also believed that the way I won or lost was as important as the result.

“I was fortunate enough to believe that whatever I could accomplish through my own work would be good enough – I think that came from my family and friends who never let my results define me.

“Nowadays I wish that type of experience for every athlete, and I want to play my part in making that possible for them. I also want to help make sport a safe, welcoming environment no matter who or where you are.”

This call for tolerance, fairness and inclusivity is echoed in the growing objectives of the NST’s service offerings under the guidance of its new leadership.

“First and foremost, I want to ensure we keep offering a very high quality, efficient and independent service for athletes and sports,” Michelle says.

“In this regard, the NST is focusing on continuous improvement, evolving all the time. I would like to explore opportunities for international and regional engagement, potentially supporting some of our Oceanic neighbours and providing services to international events within Australia.”

These expansive initiatives are well situated to help address some of the greatest integrity threats facing sport. Michelle believes that while best efforts are being made to counteract poor behaviours in sport, she says there’s more to be known and done to prevent behaviours becoming cultures.

“I definitely think that gambling and match-fixing are under-represented in the media compared to the impact they are having on sport (including the influence they have on doping),” she says.

“I personally think that one of the greatest, unrecognised threats to sport integrity is poor governance within sporting organisations. This leads to poor organisational culture which in turn can promote negative conduct and become a vicious cycle.”

She explains that while the NST performs in a regulatory capacity, their approach is personable and considerate of athlete circumstances and needs and offers various assistance for athletes, if needed.

“The NST has lots of different tools to ensure that we are accessible and transparent. We ensure that Tribunal Members are completely independent with very strong conflict of interest procedures,” Michelle says.

“We provide extra support for vulnerable persons and others who may need it and take financial hardship into consideration in charging fees. Having said all that, not everyone who comes before the NST will necessarily have a positive experience (by our very nature), but our aim is that it won’t be due to problems with accessibility or our procedures.”

The NST is an independent dispute and appeals resolution body that handles matters relating to anti-doping rule violations, disciplinary decisions, selection and eligibility and bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Sport Integrity Matters

This article appeared in the March 2024 issue of Sport Integrity Matters magazine:

Sport Integrity Matters - March 2024 issue - athlete Ellie Cole on cover

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