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Being responsive to sports complaints – when the process is more important than the outcome

When your sporting body receives a complaint, it needs to be ready to respond appropriately.  The timeliness of the response and actions taken in the early days, will influence the satisfaction of all parties with the outcome.    

Several high-profile complaints involving national sports organisations have highlighted the importance of sporting bodies of being prepared.  Federal government funding to establish Sports Integrity Australia and the National Sports Tribunal (under a pilot program until 18 March 2023) has provided a framework to manage dispute resolution, however there is still much work to be done at the national, state and club level. 

In our webinar, Effective Governance’s Cate Jolley and Dr. Rachel Baird talk with HopgoodGanim Lawyers’ Senior Associate Jon Erbacher and Swimming Australia’s General Counsel Anna Croger about the complexities of managing sports complaints and the role of the National Sports Tribunal.

Key takeaways from the webinar

The National Sports Tribunal will provide a much needed independent dispute resolution process for sporting bodies. This will help parties in the complaints process feel the outcome will be fair, and they will be heard.

However not all disputes or complaints will fall under the jurisdiction of the National Sports Tribunal, highlighting the importance of sporting bodies having their own complaints management policies and process in place now. Internal dispute resolution processes will always have a role in complaints management. 

Education for staff, players and stakeholders is essential as knowledge around the complaints management process matures. For example, educating all stakeholders on National Sports Tribunal decisions to create a common understanding of acceptable behaviour; or educating staff on the complaints management process to avoid the making it up on the run perception. 

The National Integrity Framework talks to prohibited conduct under four main policies across drugs, member protection, complaints and safeguarding children. It’s important to understand how and in what circumstances these polices apply. 

Sporting bodies can take the following practical steps to ensure they are prepared for when a complaint hits their inbox:

  • enquire with their National Sporting Organisation whether they have adopted the National Integrity Framework to understand what polices apply to them;
  • enquire with their National Sporting Organisation whether there is a national complaints manager or national integrity manager who can assist with understanding the polices;
  • if the National Sporting Organisation has not adopted the National Integrity Framework or the sporting body does not have a National Sporting Organisation, review your complaints and/or disputes policies to ensure they are fit for purpose;
  • act now to educate staff about the process to be followed when a complaint is received, and that responsiveness and communication are a key focus;
  • ensure your internal disputes resolution process is well documented and understood so that complaints can be managed at the lowest possible level; and
  • understand the jurisdiction of the National Sports Tribunal and when it might be advantageous to refer a matter to the Tribunal. 

Knowing where to start can be overwhelming given the complexities of governance frameworks and the emotions of involved parties. Yet time spent now settling policies and processes and educating stakeholders will ensure that when a complaint is received, your time can be spent on responsiveness and communication.   

If you need assistance in reviewing policies and upskilling staff, the team at Effective Governance are experts in complaints management. Contact us for a conversation.  

Cate Jolley
Cate Jolley has been the CEO of Effective Governance, part of the HopgoodGanim Advisory Group, since January 2021. Prior to this, Cate joined the team in 2019 as a Senior Advisor. With more than 20 years of commercial and legal experience, Cate advises...
Dr. Rachel Baird
Specialist Advisor
Rachel is a governance professional with 30 years of legal practice advising corporate clients on compliance and risk. She has served on multiple boards across sport, education, NFP and the environment, helping organisations move to positions of strength....