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The Australian experience: Sport Integrity Australia’s journey

22 Apr 2024

"Incredible time of growth and change"

From 1 July 2024, we’ll become part of a new, independent commission tasked with safeguarding the integrity of sport and recreation in New Zealand. Our counterparts across the ditch went through a similar transition in 2020. Lyndall Larkham, Assistant Director of Communications at Sport Integrity Australia, shared with us some insights into the organisation's own journey and continued growth.

It has been an incredible time of growth and change since Sport Integrity Australia opened its doors on 1 July 2020.

At the time none of us were fully prepared for a pandemic and the way it would impact sport, and no one was truly prepared for the flood of allegations of historical abuse that would rock the global sporting community following the release of Athlete A.

In the first 12 months the agency received an unprecedented 600+ integrity complaints, across 61 sports. What was clear at the time was that sports were not set up to deal with this influx.

In response, Sport Integrity Australia introduced a National Integrity Framework in 2021 that drew a line at the behaviours that have no place in sport. This meant that for the first time there were consistent policies across all sport so regardless of where you played, the rules were the same.

Sport recognised the need for a Framework, too, with 87 recognised national sporting organisations signing on.

The Framework has set the foundations for sport.

Over the past 2 ½ years we have worked with sports to help implement it and, in July 2022, we established a National Integrity Manager Network so sports could support, collaborate and share knowledge and expertise.

This has not been without its challenges and, in collaboration with sport, we have updated the Framework to ensure it works more effectively for both sports and participants.

In January 2023, the agency established a Safety in Sport Division to provide athletes with a safe place to tell their story. It includes an 1800 Safe Sport hotline capability for people who feel they have been discriminated against in their sport.

We have also employed a Culture and Safety Advisor to help us address discrimination, abuse and mistreatment across all levels of Australian sport and to ensure Sport Integrity Australia's work in this space is appropriate and informed.

The agency hasn’t always got things right, but we have listened and learnt. We have worked alongside sport, alongside athletes, and have put athletes’ welfare at the centre of our decision making.

One of the biggest challenges we are facing is that Sport Integrity Australia has no power to undertake investigations outside of the National Integrity Framework and no legislative means or capacity to manage historic abuse cases. These cases are complicated, requiring a victim-centred approach, a head of power and, if sanctioning is to take place, are reliant on policies in place at the time.

We are working through that now.

Our data shows that child protection is one of our biggest threats.

The majority of allegations we received in the past year were of inappropriate behaviour under the Child Safeguarding Policy by those in coaching roles and at the lower levels (recreational/club/state).

It was clear that many involved in sport did not know what their responsibilities were.

We are working with sports to tackle this head-on via education which, in 2022−23, saw 10,861 coach completions of online integrity education, with 3,397 coach completions of online safeguarding education. It’s a start. There is still a lot of work to do.

We have also commenced the roll out of a Continuous Improvement Program to help embed child safeguarding and member protection practices at all levels of sport. The program leverages expert resources, education and supporting materials from Sport Integrity Australia, the same way our agency leverages expertise around Australia and the world.

Another challenge for the agency was distinguishing ourselves from our anti-doping operations (for which it was business as usual). To this day, many still only know us as an anti-doping body because of high-profile cases in the media. Awareness of our wider remit is a constant challenge.

Providing a clean, fair, safe and inclusive environment for all requires trust and strong partnerships with everyone in the sport integrity landscape. There are so many elements to sports integrity that no one agency, no one country, can manage alone. Our partnerships with sport, law enforcement, intelligence, safeguarding and regulatory agencies are crucial to protecting our athletes and the integrity of our competitions at home and abroad.

As we all know, integrity threats do not stop at the border.

In Australia it has been critical to have a coordinated response and we have been overwhelmed by the desire of sports, government, well-being agencies and athletes, past and present, to come together to address the issues we are facing.

We still have a long way to go, but with Brisbane 2032 on the horizon, it has never been more important to embed safe, clean and fair practices within sport that are culturally capable, respectful and engaging.