Time for consolidation

  • Integrity Blog

As Sport Integrity Australia CEO David Sharpe’s tenure draws to a close, we look back at the first four years of Sport Integrity Australia.

Since opening our doors, Sport Integrity Australia has built, learnt and, importantly, written the opening chapter of the sports integrity playbook. At the time, the agency had a bold vision – to protect sport together – a vision that remains as important four years on.

As Sport Integrity Australia CEO David Sharpe has said many times over the years, there are so many elements to sports integrity that “no one agency, no one country, can manage alone”.

“We have built the model, now as a sporting nation we must move forward together to ensure a safe Australian sporting culture for all,” he said.

It is the model that will help us set the culture of sport ahead of Brisbane 2032, he said, and it is a model that only works if we have the buy-in from all stakeholders.

Quote by David Sharpe APM OAM CEO of Sport Integrity Australia as follows:  We have built the model, now as a sporting nation we must move forward together to ensure a safe Australian sporting culture for all.

“I would particularly like to recognise the role sports have played in developing our agency and their willingness to make sport better. Without them, we couldn’t have achieved what we have set out to.”

One of the agency’s greatest achievements during his time, he said, was the acceptance and implementation of a National Integrity Framework (NIF). All sports acknowledged the need for change and have embraced the NIF and its policies and “drawn a line in the sand” on the behaviours and conduct that were not acceptable in sport. It’s a model built for sport, with sport.

The subsequent funding and embedding of 22 National Integrity Managers (NIM) across 40 National Sporting Organisations and National Sporting Organisations with Disability is also noteworthy. Significantly, last month Sport Integrity Australia announced an increase in funding of the NIM program, to $2.26 million per year, for the next two years.

Mr Sharpe said he’s proud of what has been achieved through the NIM program so far, with 93 sports committed to implementing the National Integrity Framework, and “we want to do all we can to continuously support those sports and managers who are as committed to protecting the integrity of sport as we are”.

The benefits of the program are many, as it has enabled us to work directly with sports over the years to provide advice and guidance on integrity issues, including the management of complaints. The agency has also directly helped a raft of sports in this area, from football, gymnastics and the Western Australian Institute of Sport to more recently the AFL and figure skating.

Our commitment to building the capability of sport does not stop there. In June 2023, Sport Integrity Australia launched a Safeguarding in Sport Continuous Improvement Program. At its core, the program aims to embed a culture of child safety and member protection across all levels of sport in Australia.

Twenty-four sports have signed up in the past year, with discussions with other sports ongoing. Sixteen of these sports have completed the audit phase which has identified several key themes, such as safeguarding risk management, embedding safeguarding into strategic and integrity plans and recruitment to child-related positions.

“This report identifies what sports are doing well and what they need to focus on,” he said. “With ongoing support, we can help sports drive genuine cultural change for everyone - from the elite level right down to the clubs.”

However, Sport Integrity Australia’s role in protecting sport extends beyond our borders with the agency active in many global forums and advisory groups. The agency has also established and chairs a global body to support 32 like-minded countries in developing agencies in their countries based on our model and learnings.

Over the years we have been a staunch advocate for embedding fairness and integrity into all sport: on and off the field. Behind the scenes there has been a lot of work done to ensure that the anti-doping system, in particular, is consistent, robust, and transparent, regardless of where you compete.

“We have led a push for change, whether it be for the testing and analysis of EPO [Erythropoietin] or providing clarity on decisions to ensure faith in the system is maintained. Australian athletes are regularly tested and held to the highest level of accountability; we expect the same for all athletes.”

We have also called out the dearth of female leaders in sport, particularly in Australia.

The Minister for Sport Anika Wells, in her keynote address to the Women in Sport Congress last year, pointed out that in 2023 only 22% of CEOs across 65 NSOs and only 25% of board chairs across 65 NSOs were women. These figures are even lower today. They highlight a sad reality in Australia and show that we are lagging behind the rest of the world, Mr Sharpe said.

As a result, Sport Integrity Australia is creating an Empowering Women and Girls in Sport Program, designed to prevent and respond to integrity threats to women and girls across all levels of sport in Australia so that women and girls can enter, stay and thrive in sport.

“While there is an obvious imbalance within Australian sport, internationally there is a far greater desire to empower and promote Australian women into leadership positions in sport,” he said. “This program is designed to correct that imbalance.”

The Empowering Women and Girls in Sport Program has four key draft initiatives:

  • Supporting Women in Leadership
  • Empowering through Education
  • Influencing in Partnership
  • Understanding and Strengthening the Integrity Environment.

While the sporting integrity landscape is changing for the better, Mr Sharpe said there is still a way to go.

“Despite all the work and all the awareness, we still see abuse, racism, homophobia, match-fixing and illicit drug use dominate the headlines,” he said. “I have called on leaders in sport to use the power of their brands to drive cultural reform in Australian sport.

“I have always said we can only be successful in partnership. In partnership with sport, law enforcement, intelligence, safeguarding and regulatory agencies.”

Mr Sharpe said he has done what he had set out to do.

“I feel the agency has completed the build phase and, with funding secured and a new leadership team in place, it is now time to hand over the reins to take the agency into the future.

“We are now well placed to shift focus leading to 2032 from changing culture, to creating it.”

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