Katrina Fanning - acceptance, racism, a way forward

In Sport Integrity Australia’s first edition of its podcast ‘On Side’, we discussed the illustrious rugby league career of Katrina Fanning, racism in sports and proposed changes to supplement regulation. 

Acceptance, racism in sport and the way forward

In this episode of our podcast, we hear from special guests including rugby league pioneer Katrina Fanning, Emma Johnson, Dr Adam Cook and Dr Naomi Speers.



On this page


    Podcast intro: Welcome to On Side, the official podcast of Sport Integrity Australia. Our mission is to protect the integrity of sport and the health and welfare of those who participate in Australian sport.

    Tim Gavel: Hello I'm Tim Gavel, welcome to the first edition of the Sport Integrity Australia podcast On Side. Shortly we'll speak with Australian women's sporting pioneer Katrina Fanning.

    Well, with the launch of Sport Integrity Australia on July the 1st heralds, a new era for sports integrity in Australia. The opening of the new agency completes stage 1 of the implementation, which draws together the existing integrity functions of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, The National Integrity of Sport Unit and the safeguarding functions of Sport Australia.

    States who will see enhanced functions implemented including an Australian wagering scheme, enhanced outreach and education. Our podcast On Side will explore the integrity issues in sport, the challenges sports face and highlight the achievements within the industry.

    Today, we'll discuss the issues of racism in sport and how the Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on this issue in Australia, the role sports play in reducing barriers, gender equality and proposed changes to supplement regulation.



    Tim Gavel: Well, my first guest today is the Australian women's sporting pioneer Katrina Fanning. Katrina a proud Wiradjuri woman played for Australia in the first ever women's rugby league Test in 1995, she went on to play 26 test matches for her country. Katrina has contributed so much to the community and she's also on the Sport Integrity Australia Athlete Advisory Group. Katrina, thanks very much for joining us on 'On Side' today.

    Katrina Fanning: Thanks Tim, pleasure to be here.

    Tim Gavel: Firstly, how does it feel to be called a pioneer? Because I would imagine you just grew up wanting to play sport, loving sport?

    Katrina Fanning: Well, that's right. Growing up in a little country town you know rugby league's all anyone talks about, so I really didn't think about what that looked like from a bigger point of view, just that that's what everyone in town was doing, that's what brought everyone together and I wanted to be part of it.

    Tim Gavel: Tell us about growing up in Junee.

    Katrina Fanning: Look come from a large family, probably nearly a hundred first cousins so you couldn't really get into much strife with everyone, without at least one auntie and seven cousins knowing about it, but it was a place where sport was central to everybody. You played all sorts of different things because it wasn't a huge amount of people so I played a bit of netball and volleyball, because then those girls would play soccer or touch football or whatever, so you sort of learnt a lot more about what goes into making sport special, about teamwork, about volunteering all those sorts of things and you know they're a lesson that I carry through today.

    Tim Gavel: You wanted to play rugby league from an early age?

    Katrina Fanning: I did and look always in the back yard playing and those sort of things, go to about eight years old and decided I wanted to actually play proper footy and have you know a team jumper and those sort of things and really was just lucky that my age group of boys in Junee, there weren't too many that wanted to play rugby league, so they were actually quite desperately short of players.

    Otherwise, it probably would of been a bit harder to get registered than the hoops we had to jump through anyway. The first year the boys weren't so sure about it, I don't think they passed me the ball once, so I learnt how to tackle pretty well. But over the next few years we got in the swing of things, and I think it helped them a lot too in the way they looked at girls being able to take on all sorts of tasks.

    Tim Gavel: What did your family think about you playing rugby league, with the men, with the boys?

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah look Mum wasn't impressed, and I think in some ways she probably felt a little bit embarrassed by it just because she wasn't sure what other people would think, but she also had a pretty strong sense of "If you really want to do something you can", so she was probably torn about it she was, I think the first couple of weeks she was a bit worried I was going to get hurt and then that slipped around to being worried I'd hurt someone else and once she sort of got past that the contact was something I could handle then she was fine. Came to plenty of my test matches and those sort of things along the way so it grew on her as well.

    Tim Gavel: Growing up I would imagine that you just wanted to fit in, was that the feeling? And you wanted to be just part of what everybody else was doing?

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah absolutely. There's, in a little town like that that sense of belonging and community's really strong but of course you're either in that or you're not and I'm sure there's plenty of, there was probably a few kids growing up that didn't get to experience that. I you know I've played in the school band, did all sorts of things because I just really liked being involved, You know some of those things, I was terrible at band but they put up with me, but it was just good to try things and you know you don't know what you're going to be good at unless you give it a fair go so I was really lucky to get lots of those different opportunities.

    Tim Gavel: In a small country town, having grown up in a small country town myself, there is racism, did you encounter much of that?

    Katrina Fanning: Not, not too much. There was a couple of kids that in my year at school that you know would think it was funny. There was one guy for the first 3 years of high school that asked me if my sandwich had coon cheese on it every day, it took me a year to realise what he was even talking about, because it wasn't something that came up too often. Probably only really saw it harshly a couple of times and usually around Laurie playing for Junee as well and because he was so good at rugby league that was what people –

    Tim Gavel: Laurie Daley?

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah, that's what people defaulted to was to use racism to try and bring him down, because he was scoring 10 tries a game and those sorts of things. So, that was really the only place that I saw it as a kid but growing up and looking back now things like Mum and her siblings, the year before I was born in 1972 was the final year in New South Wales where it was actually law that if someone in town didn't want Aboriginal kids enrol in the school they couldn't be.

    You know so there was lots of things that were silent barriers that I guess had us behind the start line that you didn't even realise at the time. So you're going through school and my mom's engagement with school was pretty limited because it was just not something or a place that she felt embraced through her own childhood and things and I guess there was a bit of not wanting to be embarrassed by not understanding the homework or being up to do the canteen roster and those sort of things so that played out in sort of disengaging from it rather than being embarrassed by it.

    Tim Gavel: The Black Lives Matter movement that is going on at the moment, does it bring back memories of sort of some of the struggles that you've had over the years?

    Katrina Fanning: Look it certainly brings back lots of emotions, our family directly haven't had someone who's died in custody but certainly those sorts of, when those things happen it affects a much broader group of people and knowing that at any given time the way you're going to be treated in police custody within a government service system or by policy, is different to other people and not in a good way, certainly does hang over your head.

    The constant we were more likely to be told to make sure you dress properly going down the street or the welfare will get you, that was probably more of the narrative for us growing up, but it was certainly that you had to be better, look cleaner than anybody else just to not draw attention to yourself because there was, it always felt like there was someone watching.

    Tim Gavel: It's not just about police custody, etcetera we're talking a whole equality issue here, aren't we?

    Katrina Fanning: That's right, that's right. The whole that, if you and I put in the same amount effort we should get the same, expect the same sort of service or result, just hasn't always been the case. Probably my generation and luckily the town I grew up in, that was a much easier road than it has been for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and that could be quite a difficult conversation to have at times.

    But I like to think that whilst my experience wasn't perfect, it certainly is a lot further along the way to the Australia I aspire for us to have. That I want our communities to be, and it proved that it is possible with good will and certainly sport played a big role in that. It didn't hurt that all of mum and her siblings were great at sport and that the town, that was a really easy way to start to build relationships once they're allowed to come and live in town.

    Tim Gavel: I was just about to ask you about the roles sport played in overcoming some barriers and sort of that acceptance that you craved at that early age.

    Katrina Fanning: So yeah, look it was one of those things, I was a pretty shy kid as well so being out to meet friends just by walking up and talking to people was not, not that easy for me. And quite often given that we had so many cousins you sort of just default to family friendship groups, whereas sport was a way to test yourself, to be committed and build relationships with people without really having to be too personal I guess and to give too much away and that it was a place where especially in a small town where people really encouraged and celebrated people coming along to play.

    Because we needed the numbers, and the relationships and the friendships and those sorts of things grew from there, as it does for most sports teams that you go through experiences together. That potentially without sport, we would never have had that opportunity to experience together, to learn more about each other and to work out ways for us to overcome things together.

    Tim Gavel: When did you realise you were pretty good at rugby league?

    Katrina Fanning: So yeah, as a kid I probably didn't think that I was all that good at it. I just enjoyed playing it and then of course at 12 you sort of couldn't play anymore for a long period of time. And it wasn't 'til I came to Canberra, I was actually playing a bit of soccer and came across a bunch of women who were playing in the local comp and it really, the Raiders happened to be playing in the background on the TV.

    I think it was at the Irish club actually and someone from their table was making a comment about something that happened on the game and I gave my two cents worth and really started back into the game because they said "well if you know so much about it why don't you come and play?", and then I was a bit well you know I played when I was a kid, I think I can play but can I really?

    And probably that first season was a really big challenge I think for most people. That first big tackle in contact when you go up levels and that sort of thing is always the first challenge of "am I ready for this? Am I going to, am I going to rise to the challenge or am I going to back off a little bit, I'm going to have a bit of a hand brake if I hit the ball up or anything", and for me it wasn't necessarily that I did anything particularly overly talented, but was more just that I was confident I had the right character I guess, to test myself with that and to put myself into that challenge and to see how I'd go.

    So, for me that was probably more important than any individual skill that you know if I practise enough, I could build that up, but that confidence and that I guess that stubbornness to be able to stick at something that was, you know it's pretty tough if you get it wrong.

    Tim Gavel: Because by this time you'd moved to Canberra and just to go back a little bit, once you reach the age of 12 women can't play...

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah, couldn't play –

    Tim Gavel: …in boy's competitions there are no women's competitions –

    Katrina Fanning: That's right.

    Tim Gavel: So effectively, you had to walk away from the sport for a little bit?

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah, the irony was I went off to play hockey with Arthur Summons as two girls in Wagga, you know Kathy and Janine, so I still have a little bit of connection to footballers. But yeah, had to play a range of other things because there just wasn't a competition available which, you know, which wasn't great but, in those days, I was really not so much passionate about any one particular sport, I just like getting out and doing something different and new, so I was probably playing a different sport every night of the week to be honest.

    Tim Gavel: So, you've moved to Canberra in your 20's, you realise there are opportunities to play rugby league, you go on to play a rugby league test, well the first ever women's test in 1995, how did that feel? Because as you mentioned you'd been out of the sport for a little bit, came back, weren't sure how you'd go, suddenly you're playing a test match.

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah, and being the first one, we had no idea what the Kiwi skill sets were like. We'd seen them at a couple of pregame functions, and they weren't, they weren't small ladies that's for sure, they were very physically well prepared and looked quite strong. So that first game was really quite a mental challenge but getting that green and gold jumper and I thought a lot about my grandparents, my extended family, about sacrifice and things and just I always like to focus on when things got tough, it wasn't just me I'd be giving up on if I didn't try and rise to the occasion.

    That there was a lot of other people's effort and sacrifice and time that went into wherever I've been fortunate enough to get. And that day at Lincoln Oval after a fair spray from Tommy Raudonikis as a warmup speech, to be honest I think the first 20 minutes and I didn't really feel anything except this huge amount of adrenaline. And by then, you're into sort of the arm wrestle of the game and sort of eases into just feeling like a game again. But that first game was pretty special I think only a few days ago we went past the 25 years for that anniversary, so doesn't feel like it's been that long though.

    Tim Gavel: Well, you went on to play what 26 test matches? So that was the start of something special for you, wasn't it?

    Katrina Fanning: Yes, and it really opened my eyes to not just what rugby league could be, but that actually what my life could be about. I thought coming to Canberra was sort of the biggest adventure that I was going to have, had never thought about much travel even within Australia, let alone getting to go to England and into the Pacific to play games and meeting a whole bunch of different people.

    And the confidence that I was able to get through rugby league made me start to think about what I might be able to do for other people as well and what pathways, what they might be able to achieve if they're given a similar sort of start in life.

    Tim Gavel: So, did you feel as though; "listen I am doing something special here because I'm a woman, indigenous", there are many aspects to this aren't there?

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah, look at the time it doesn't feel like that, because at the time each one of those steps is a battle. You know the first time we got to go on live TV, all the commentators wanted to ask us about was really inappropriate questions about how we might strap body parts and things.

    So, I don't think it's until probably about two thirds of the way through my career, when some of that support started to change and people's opinion around the game of women playing rugby league started to change. Up until then everything, the next step's just the next challenge. Whether it's raising enough money to be able to play, whether it's addressing sort of stereotypes or any of the things that went into raising the bar each time.

    I don't think there was ever a time I thought you know "this is really special, we're doing something new here", it was more the questions of; "why aren't we able to do this?" and finding solutions to it and I don't think it was until once I stopped playing, that I guess you can relax from that, and you feel like; "well, I did the best I could with the opportunities that were in front of us".

    And it's probably why since I finished playing, I've been as involved in the administration and other things and advocating particularly for the women's game and for indigenous community pathways, because I know how special the game is and the difference it can make.

    Tim Gavel: Another aspect of life that is very special to you, marriage equality.

    Katrina Fanning: Oh, absolutely. So, the last decade or so, has really brought out the best and worst in that scenario. Having to see a basically a note go to every household in Australia, to decide whether my relationships are the same sort of value as someone else's.

    You know it's actually quite a difficult thing and it felt like going back to the start line again and being judged just for a different component of who I am as a person. We've got three young kids and wanting to make sure that for them, they can see that we're as normal a family as everybody else, that it's something unusual or different or less about who we are and who they are, it's really important.

    Even things like I know this past weekend we had to get some medical attention; my partner has busted a bone in her hand. But the difference from a decade a go of going in and having to just say that your friends so that you don't have to worry about the person behind the counter making a judgement about whether I should be allowed to come and have information about Kate's health or not, versus this weekend, where that was embraced and treated very much as an equal and next of kin and those sort of things. It's really important, because we've built our lives together and, and to make sure that the rules don't treat us differently is really important.

    Tim Gavel: When did you realise that you know that you were attracted to Kate?

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah.

    Tim Gavel: And I guess coming to grips with your sexuality?

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah, so Kate. I knew I was gay lot longer, a lot earlier than that, probably in high school in Junee, so that was pretty difficult time.

    Tim Gavel: Well, I'd imagine so.

    Katrina Fanning: It was. You know in those days, we still got the push across Australia for good facilities for women's sports teams now, so you can imagine even at high school, doing sport in PE, everyone just put you in a room and you're supposed to get changed and dressed together and that was really awkward time for me. I found that really quite difficult and, and really went into my shell about some of those things.

    So, it wasn't until I came to Canberra and in some ways felt like no one who knew me could see me, that I could start to express that part of who I was and that was really difficult, because it felt like I couldn't be my whole self in any one place.

    I was either Junee Katrina or football Katrina or gay Katrina. And the reality is, I'm all those things everywhere I go. But you're forever trying to measure it so that everyone else feels comfortable and everyone else feels okay with what to do and it took a long time to get to a point of not being awful to people.

    But actually, a lot of that's actually for someone else to work out for themselves and I can't control how someone feels or reacts to that, but I can just be my authentic self and show people how normal that is and how much I want to be part of the community and contribute like other people. And then people can make their own judgements about that, but it took a long time to not feel responsible for how everyone else felt about it.

    Tim Gavel: How do you feel about being almost an advocate for a range of social issues? Whether it be women's sport, indigenous issues, an indigenous voice, marriage equality...how do you feel about suddenly being called upon to talk about a range of issues?

    Katrina Fanning: It's a two-lane sort of highway this one. I think on one, one hand, I really like the opportunity to, that we have a voice, and we can be part of the future of our sport, our community and those sort of things. But I don't want people to think that whether we're talking about female athletes or aboriginal communities, that there's only one voice that represents us.

    The point that we need to get to, is that there's diversity within all of those groups as well. So, whilst I'm happy to raise issues and to provide some points of view, it's really important to know that there's lots of other points of view and mine's not perfect. It's just another way of looking at things that we can all put on the table and try and figure out the next steps forward together.

    Tim Gavel: Do you feel as though we are making progress?

    Katrina Fanning: Absolutely and I think even just seeing some of our national sporting teams and organisations and player led approaches to raising awareness around social justice issues, around I know with the work I do with the NRL at the moment, that the players now can have a voice on issues outside of rugby league without fear of their contracts being torn up or being seen as too difficult to have in the roster because they get distracted by all this other stuff, that we see them as part of the community and that they're not just footballers. They are part of our community who are entitled to their views, and we ask them to be role models on things constantly and they should be able to have a say in the things, they want to have a voice about.

    Tim Gavel: Are you proud of the way that people have stood up? You saw the Australian women's basketball team, I guess that's who you're referring to there, but right across the board we've had sport stand up against racism.

    Katrina Fanning: Absolutely. I think the proactive nature of that now, that some sports aren't waiting for an incident to happen to someone in their team. That they're not leaving it up to just the indigenous players or the players who are the target of the discrimination to stand up.

    It's really important for people to see that all Australians should be offended, when there's racism or there's discrimination. You know we like to believe this country's built on a fair go and that if you put in the effort and you've got the talent, you'll get your just rewards. Well, we've got to live that, not just say that.

    Tim Gavel: You're on the Athlete Advisory Group at Sport Integrity Australia, formerly ASADA was where you sat in terms of being on the Athlete Advisory Group. Do you feel as though as a former athlete and with a range of experiences and other parts of life that you were able to contribute to what might go on in terms of sport integrity in Australia?

    Katrina Fanning: Oh absolutely. I think that the initiative around the Advisory Group is just fantastic. I think it shows the sort of huge change in how this, the previous organisation and what this new organisation is set up to do and it's not just to sort of catch someone out. It's actually to make a level playing field for everybody and to work to the benefit of the athletes, not to the detriment of them.

    Whilst there might be individual cases where matters need to be resolved, the overarching goal is to make sure that sport is able to be a level playing field in a place where everyone gets the same opportunities, to do their best and you know certainly that group's a really eclectic bunch from different sports and different experiences and really robust conversations.

    But I think that that's, that's part of how we make the right changes and stay on the right path, is to have that diversity of opinion to keep the core of what's special about sport at the centre of it and to work through the issues as they come up.

    The things that we know now and the things that we can't foresee and to have that open line of communication and to just keep building relationships that are focused on the best outcome for Australian sport is to, to be clean and to be fair and to make sure that people feel like when they're sending their eight-year-olds off to play a sport, that that's a pathway that's going to teach them the values that they want their children have in life. Regardless of whether they become an elite athlete or volunteer their club sport of a weekend, regardless of what they do with their lives.

    Tim Gavel: And it's also important to take into account the pressures faced by elite athletes –

    Katrina Fanning: Oh absolutely.

    Tim Gavel: …and the education aspect to grassroots whether or not everybody is getting the right information but fully understanding what it's like to be an elite athlete.

    Katrina Fanning: Absolutely and the pressures aren't just about coming first, they're about many, particularly in our professional sports, it can be about providing for a much larger group of your family. It can be things around mental health and being pushed to be sort of public faces of things that you're not ready to be. And it should be okay to just want to be an athlete in a particular sport and not have to do all those things, if that's what you want to do as well.

    So, I think this process of giving former athletes predominantly a voice, but that's still connected to what that world looks like now, what it looks like for parents. Some of the things that we've seen in the supplement space for example, like I had no idea about the different bars that my kids eat even. You know thinking; "oh well that's better than a bit further down in the chocolate aisle", when it's not in some regards right?

    So that, that education component and just making it easy to access regardless of your background, the place where you play sport, the type of sport you play and making it relevant to as many people as possible, is really important work and I think this organisation is really well placed to deliver on that promise.

    Tim Gavel: Do you find yourself educating others as you go along? Because you're out there, you've got three boys –

    Katrina Fanning: [Laughing] The supermarket app's great.

    Tim Gavel: Do you find yourself subconsciously almost educating people?

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah, so in a couple of ways. One, around how the different products might work to better inform you, but also around that the bigger picture around when someone's cheating or doing the wrong thing in the sporting world, that that has bigger impacts than just on that person.

    You know that whole, with my, I've got teenage boys so the whole idea of not wanting to be a dobber is huge right? And trying to get them to understand that actually integrity in what you do, is really important and sometimes it might even cost you friendships or other things, to do the right thing.

    But it's always, it's what you have to do and to try and explain to them how to go about that as young men and to be good people, is really important and so there's lots of, what we're talking about in the advisory group, lots of what Sport Integrity Australia and has now been brought together to do, that's just as relevant to my kitchen table conversations, that's how I, that's where education is done at home over dinner, over meals.

    You know when those sort of things come up, taking the information that I get from these sorts of forums as well to help them just to be better people, regardless of they're not the most brilliant athletes, but they love sport but help him to see that those are lessons that can be transferred to all aspects of their life.

    Tim Gavel: Yes, the win at all costs mentality is a real issue in sport and you'd hope that by educating people and getting people to listen to people like you, that sport is there for other reasons, not just to win at all costs.

    Katrina Fanning: Yeah, it's an interesting one and a lot of the time the win at all costs is actually someone else living that through you. So, quite often we see that with adults on the sideline with kids at sport for example, that the win at all costs attitude's actually not being driven by the child themselves, but the expectations to make someone else happy.

    There's not many, like I get to catch up with lots of former athletes now and I can tell you, I can't think of the last time anyone of them raised their win/loss record, their fastest times, their...what they talk about is what they got out of sport, the friendships they made, the challenges that they overcome themselves.

    Those sorts of things, which are all great life lessons and you know that might be easy to say when I'm talking about people who do have a cupboard full of trophies and things but, but you're sporting playing career in particular is such a small fraction of your life both in years, but also in the impact that you have on the community and, and it shouldn't be the only way you measure how successful you are as a person.

    Tim Gavel: You've had an enormous contribution to the community through...we've already mentioned a range of issues, you're on many boards, on the Canberra Raiders Rugby League Board amongst other things. But you, sometimes I guess, would get the feeling that you're being pulled in every direction. Do you feel as though you're stretched from one side to the other a little bit, because you are on advocate for so many issues?

    Katrina Fanning: Absolutely and that's why it's important for me to try and build more opportunities for other people to grow into those sort of roles as well. One, so there's a diversity of views but two, you know you just can't be in all places at once.

    There's been times where I've had to sort of stop and cull some of those commitments as well, because I'm not being the parent that I want to be and our boys are old enough to now to need people on the sideline while they're having a go at their sports and those sort of things so trying to find that balance is really important and coming back to that where do I think I can, you know I've only got so much time I can devote to this type of work, where do I think I can have the most impact and then really just dedicating my time to that.

    Tim Gavel: Yes, because it is as I mentioned a moment ago a stretch, but you do it so well, do you judge yourself? Do you think I could be doing this better? I could be doing that better? Or I really need to speak out about something that is, you know whether it be the Black Lives Matter issue, or marriage equality, indigenous issues, women in sport?

    Katrina Fanning: Absolutely. I think I probably spend; I don't think I spend a whole bunch of time to be honest on the things I think I'm getting right, I just sort of put them to the side. I quite often have a in the mirror conversation about did I get that right? Did I say enough? Did I, did I include the right people in that opportunity? And not necessarily what the outcome was but what can we learn from it?

    So, there's been times where like when the marriage equality vote came through, where my partner and I sat there and realised that I probably don't spend much time volunteering or helping to advocate in that space as well. So having a look at least subtle things that we could do that could help in that space but, but it's also trying to pull back and make sure you don't spread yourself so thin that you are having no impact anywhere.

    Tim Gavel: Yes, I'll finish with the question that asked at the start about whether or not you're comfortable being regarded as a pioneer in women's sport, do you feel comfortable?

    Katrina Fanning: Not really. I think I always look at it as, you know in 1995 I wasn't a pioneer because that was the first test match. There was decades of people's hard work and sacrifice for the game to even be in a position for test matches in 1995, so I think it would probably you know I think I've made the most the opportunity someone else has provided before me and I'd like to think that post my playing career I've tried to create just as many opportunities for the next generation.

    But I certainly only think I'm part of a much longer pipeline of people who've done a lot to progress women in rugby league, but women in sport. So yeah, probably not comfortable with that term at all, but happy with that you know, I have at least made a fair effort in doing my bit.

    Tim Gavel: Haven't thought about politics by any chance, have you?

    Katrina Fanning: No... [Laughing]

    Tim Gavel: [Laughing] Come on, just a little bit?

    Katrina Fanning: No...

    Tim Gavel: No, that's not for you?

    Katrina Fanning: No... [Laughing]

    Tim Gavel: Too busy? [Laughing]. Katrina it's been lovely having a chat to you today on On Side, thanks very much for joining us today.

    Katrina Fanning: Good to see you again Tim.


    Tim Gavel: It's now time for our new segment From The Highlight Reel, where we go back in time and relive an important milestone in sport.

    This time we're joined by Sport Integrity Australia's own Emma Johnson. Emma as a 16-year-old was the youngest member of the Australian swimming team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, she won bronze in the four by 200 relay and finished fifth in the final of the 400 IM.  

    Commentator: “Smith clearing away from them, Wagner looking at the silver. Egerszergi trying, fighting for the bronze, coming on strongly is Johnson she'll get fifth. They go in though and a wonderful performance.” 

    Tim Gavel: Yes, you're pretty close there towards getting a medal in the four hundred IM, but just edged out at the end. 

    Emma Johnson: Yes, so that was my, the four hundred IM was on the first day of the Olympics and I remember walking out for my heat swim in the morning and just being absolutely terrified and walking out there and I was lucky and thought OK, I'm alright.

    So jumped in, swam probably too fast in the heat and ended up swimming in lane five, so second fastest qualifier for the final and, then from there on, to be honest, the rest of the day is a bit of a blur. But to finish fifth in my first event on the first day, was pretty surprising and pretty satisfying. 

    Tim Gavel: And then later in the meet: 

    Commentator: “Emma’s moved to third place; the baby of the team is looking terrific. Oh, fantastic sprint by Emma Johnson, she’s gone 2:01 which is just outstanding, and Suzie O’Neil there’s no way anyone’s going to swim past for the bronze here.” 

    Tim Gavel: On the podium, with a bronze medal. 

    Emma Johnson: Absolutely. That was definitely beyond my, my plans or what I thought I would achieve it at that Olympics, and I didn't even know I was going to be part of that relay team until we were actually there. And I remember a coach saying you know “we want you to be part of the relay team, are you going to do it?”, and I was thinking oh my gosh, "I don't know if I'm up for this".

    But doing it was, swimming in that relay team with people like Nicole Livingstone and Susie O'Neill and Julia Greville, and to come home with the bronze medal was, was amazing and one of the, one of the highlights of my career definitely, and my life. 

    Tim Gavel: Thanks for going back in time and sharing your experience with us Emma, a powerful moment and an inspiring one.  



    Tim Gavel: We're now going to take a look at the proposed clarification of the supplements regulation and the cross-agency collaboration between Sport Integrity Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration TGA and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

    At the moment the new clarification is not yet in force and the government is yet to make an official decision which will happen in the near future. Alongside me to discuss the proposed clarification is Dr Adam Cook - Director Listing Compliance at the TGA, as well as Dr Naomi Speers - Sport Integrity Australia's Chief Science Officer is joining us over the phone.

    Firstly, to you Adam, what is the reason behind the proposed clarification and why do you see a need to clarify?

    Dr Adam Cook: Thank you for having me Tim. Well, the, I guess the first fundamental to appreciate is that there is an interface between the regulatory system for foods in Australia and that for therapeutic goods or medicines specifically and there can be certain types of products that could be either a food or a medicine, depending on how they're presented for use to consumers. And that interface can be difficult to navigate for manufacturers of products springing into the market and indeed, for consumers to differentiate between certain products are medicines or therapeutic goods because of the claims that they use.

    So, this clarification is being brought in to make it clearer for consumers and for manufacturers and suppliers of products that may be either a sports supplement or a medicine as to which side of that fence they fall on.

    Tim Gavel: Given it is a clarification, it would suggest there has been confusion in the marketplace?

    Dr Adam Cook: Yeah, that's right and that's because foods are allowed to have health claims and foods in Australia are regulated under the Food Standards Code that's maintained by Food Standards Australia New Zealand as you said earlier.

    And on the other side we have medicines and other third pretty goods which also can claim claims and there can be no overlap between health claims and therapeutic claims, and so that overlap gives rise to some confusion.

    Part of the difficulty around the sports supplements is that there is a specific code under the Food Standards code for sports supplements, so there's definitely a space in the market for sports supplements that are foods. However, because they contain claims relating to sport performance that can also be therapeutic claims, this gives rise, gives rise to uncertainty about which side of the fence they fall on.

    Tim Gavel: And I guess that's where Sport Integrity Australia comes into the picture Naomi, because you need that clarification don't you? On supplements in particular.

    Dr Naomi Speers: Yeah, we at Sport Integrity Australia are really concerned about supplements and the effect that they might have on athletes. Their health effects and the anti-doping implications and so we're really keen for this clarification which we think will make the system easier to navigate for consumers and also safer for consumers.

    Tim Gavel: Yes, I mentioned to Adam a moment ago, there is confusion in the marketplace, but equally so in the sporting community about what they can and can't take in terms of supplements. Will this to a certain degree make it a little clearer for athletes that you know, this is in a supplement and that's not in a supplement?

    Dr Naomi Speers: As Adam was saying a moment ago, sometimes the marketing overtakes exactly what is in the product. The situation will actually be similar for athletes in terms of they'll still have to make a risk-based decision about what products they use and these, even listed medicines still require athletes to consider those risks and we still recommend that athletes use a batch tested product in that space, but I do believe that this will make those products better quality for athletes so that the risk is lowered.  

    Tim Gavel: And so how important is it for Sport Integrity Australia to be involved in this cross-agency collaboration, when you're looking at something like this how important is it?

    Dr Naomi Speers: It's so important. There's so many parts of the Sport Integrity ecosystem, I guess that we can't control on our own and so it's really critical for us to be working with partners like the TGA to bring about these kind of changes, that have a really positive impact for athletes.

    Tim Gavel: And what form will the clarification take, will it be wording? What sort of things are we looking at there?

    Dr Adam Cook: So, under the therapeutic goods framework and the Therapeutic Goods Act under which medicines are regulated there is a power for the secretary to declare certain types of goods to be therapeutic goods. That authority is there expressly for these sort of situations where there may be ambiguity as to whether a product is a food or a medicine or indeed a medicine and some other type of good.

    So, we're going to use the existing or proposing to use anyway the existing authority that's within the Therapeutic Goods Act to make a declaration specifying what attributes of certain types of goods related to sports performance are associated with therapeutic goods so that it's clear which side of the fence they fall on, that they know they're not foods and that they definitely are medicines.  

    Tim Gavel: So, when somebody goes into a supermarket is it going to become clearer to them? 

    Dr Adam Cook: I think the, in a supermarket what will provide clarity and confidence is that some products that currently don't carry an AUST L number, which is what signifies that the product is regulated by the TGA, may appear on the market with an AUST L number if they are a therapeutic good and come in within the medicines regulatory framework.

    That AUST L number is a sign there that the product is being regulated under the Therapeutic Goods Act and by the TGA and provides additional confidence for consumers about the measures that are in place, the national regulatory system and to ensure the safety, quality and efficacy of that good.

    Tim Gavel: Naomi of course there was that 2016 academic study which said that one in five supplements contained a banned substance and in terms of batch testing is this going to improve the clarification? You mentioned a moment ago but is this going to improve the clarification for people buying off the shelf?

    Dr Naomi Speers: The clarification will make it clearer for athletes and other consumers the type of product that they're using, and as Adam's mentioned how that product is regulated. It'll still be really important for athletes to use products that are batch tested to make sure that they're using the lowest risk product, but I think it's important that a lot of these products will be more tightly regulated now, and I think that means that there will be lower risk and better quality.

    Tim Gavel: And Naomi given the changes or clarification does it make it easier for Sport Integrity Australia to give advice to athletes?

    Dr Naomi Speers: It won't fundamentally change the advice that we give to athletes. Athletes will still need to be careful of every product that they consume, and we'll still be advising athletes to use batch tested products, but I do believe that this will lower the risk for athletes.

    Dr Adam Cook: And Tim the clarification that we're proposing will improve consumer and athlete confidence for two main reasons really.

    Firstly, that having clarified whether these products are foods or therapeutic goods and medicines in particular, means that the product risks that may vary across the whole spectrum of sports supplements are controlled accordingly under the foods regulatory system or the therapeutic goods system which establishes two different frameworks according to the level of those risks for foods and medicines.

    They're quite distinct, so that products that are a higher risk because of what they contain, would be regulated as medicines rather than foods to address those potential risks.

    The other facet that's quite important, is because there's clarity over which side of the fence these products fall. Us as regulators so the TGA for therapeutic goods and states and territories and local authorities for foods, can more rapidly take action if we detect potential unsafe products or compliance issues with these products so that, so that any potential problems that may be out there could be addressed more quickly, so the confidence for consumers and athletes alike arises for both of those reasons.

    Tim Gavel: The most visible sign when you go into a shop, in a supermarket and you see the sports drinks, is that part of your regulation process there in terms of clarification?

    Dr Adam Cook: No so we're not, we're not targeting all sports supplements to be clarified to be therapeutic goods. It's a subsection of what would be considered to fall under that broad spectrum of sports supplements. So, protein powders for example, we see as clearly being foods and fit for remaining to be regulated as foods.

    What we're thinking to do is clarify that sports supplements market it in the manner and present it for a use that is for sporting performance, but which present a higher risk to consumers because of what they contain. Or they're presented to have a function as a medicine, they should be regulated as medicines because there's a specific regulatory framework established to regulate those.

    So, there's, there will continue to be many goods that are sports supplements which will be regulated as foods, and you've mentioned some of those the protein powders in particular.

    Tim Gavel: And Naomi, we've seen obviously health issues relating to dietary supplements amongst other things, it certainly improves in terms of information that the general community can get when they go into a shop.

    Dr Naomi Speers: Yes, we're really concerned about the health implications for athletes and consumers in using these products and the information that's available to them should be improved through this process.

    Tim Gavel: How big an issue is it Naomi, in terms of supplements and people not really knowing what they're putting into their body? Is it, is it a huge issue?

    Dr Naomi Speers: I believe it is yes. As you mentioned Tim there's that, there's recent studies that show that one in five products on the market, in the market will contain ingredients that were not declared on the label. So that means that people consume these products and actually unknowingly consumed poisons that they wouldn't have chosen to take if they'd known they were there.

    So, they could be doing them that they could be putting themselves and a significant health risk because of the presence of undeclared ingredients.

    Tim Gavel: Yes, and Adam can you pull up some of the marketing that's done? Because obviously they do sell it as a specific product and they say that it's healthy and you should use it all the time, can you, can you regulate that?

    Dr Adam Cook: Under the therapeutic goods framework there are specific requirements for what can be included on a label and what could be included in advertising. We have the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, I won't begin to list many of those requirements, but obviously the principal requirement is that they have to be truthful and, supported by evidence.

    And we have measures in place within the framework to be able to monitor the truthfulness of those sort of claims. They also have to be consistent with public health campaigns as well generally, so they need to fit within the broader landscape, broader health landscape within Australia both from an evidentiary point of view and from a reasonableness point of view I suppose.

    Tim Gavel: Yes, just as a final question, if people would like to know more information it's available on a website?

    Dr Adam Cook: Yes, that's right so on the TGA website, we do have information about our proposal and the consultation process that has been occurring to date and we're continuing up that page as our project evolves.

    Tim Gavel: Naomi, in terms of athletes, how will they get this information?

    Dr Naomi Speers: We'll continue to communicate with athletes from the Sport Integrity Australia mechanisms as well. So, as this change progresses, we'll absolutely be keeping athletes and sporting organisations in the loop about the changes that are forthcoming and the time frames in which those changes will be made.

    Tim Gavel: Thank you very much Dr Adam Cook - Director Listing Compliance at the TGA and Dr Naomi Speers - Sport Integrity Australia's Chief Science Officer. Thank you very much for joining us today.

    Dr Adam Cook: Thanks Tim.

    Dr Naomi Speers: Thanks Tim.

    Tim Gavel: More with On Side in just a moment.



    Riley McGown: Hi guys my name is Riley, I'm a mid-distance runner from the ACT. The question I have from left field today is how long do things stay in your system for?

    Now this is quite a tricky one, because a lot of factors come into play, and it is very very individualised between people. So, what could take somebody 24 hours to clear from their system, could take someone else 72 hours, you just never know.

    Now the example I always like to give here is caffeine, right? From coffee. If I have a coffee after four o'clock in the afternoon, I'll have quite a lot of trouble getting to sleep that night, whereas someone like my grandma she can have coffee after dinner and still be lights out sound asleep by nine o'clock in the evening.

    So, the advice I always like to give is just steer clear of that substance. If it's a medication that you actually require and of course apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption, or simply allow time as recommended by your doctor for that to clear out of your system before returning to competition.

    Tim Gavel: That was Clean Sport Educator Riley McGown. Thanks for listening to On Side and just a reminder for future episodes - follow and subscribe our podcast. Thanks again for listening to On Side.

    Podcast outro: You've been listening to On Side, the official podcast of Sport Integrity Australia. Send in your podcast questions or suggestions to media@sportintegrity.gov.au.

    For more information on Sport Integrity Australia please visit our website sportintegrity.gov.au or check out our Clean Sport app.