Sport Integrity Australia first opened its doors on 1 July 2020 at a time when the sporting landscape in Australia was unlike anything we’ve ever seen: COVID-19 was impacting sporting competitions and, indeed, their very survival was in doubt. This, coupled with growing global unrest around the treatment of athletes, presented challenges beyond comprehension. Here we look at how Sport Integrity Australia responded, and some key milestones for our first 12 months.
When COVID-19 hit, sports had to adapt in order to survive, according to CEO David Sharpe, with many sports forced to cut costs and reduce staffing levels.
“In context, Australia was in the midst of building and delivering a new sports integrity agency, and these issues impacted the very foundations the new agency were being built upon,” Sharpe says.
Sport Integrity Australia, one year on, is a very different agency to the one that opened its doors virtually in July 2020, he says.
“When we were establishing the agency, our focus was on consolidating the existing efforts of multiple agencies into one new organisation. That in itself can be a challenge, but within three months, so much in Australian sport changed so quickly, it was clear our role had to be broader than we initially planned. We had to adapt at a rapid pace none of us anticipated.”
A key development was the release of the Athlete A documentary which sparked allegations of abuse by coaches and other administrators towards gymnasts around the world, including Australia.
The resultant ripple effect of abuse claims within Australian sporting communities was unprecedented, he says.
Participants from “all levels of sport and a myriad of sporting organisations sought our assistance” to independently assess alleged breaches of sport integrity policies, from breaches of child safeguarding and member protection policies, to the improper use of drugs and medicine and sports wagering issues.
“This has shaped our development and defined who we are today,” he says. “Sport Integrity Australia is determined to ensure that no sport, indeed no athlete, will be left behind.”
He says a strong partnership between sporting bodies and Sport Integrity Australia, built on trust, is the only way forward in supporting athletes past, present and future.
“While our remit may have changed, our commitment to working in partnership with sports and athletes to protect the integrity of Australian sport – from elite competition right through to the grassroots level – has not.”
Sport Integrity Australia understands the power of sport and its culture in the Australian psyche, however Sharpe believes the integrity of sport is challenged by the lack of female representation at CEO and Board level as “diversity of voice is critical to success”.
It is only through partnerships that we can correct this imbalance, he says, which is why we have collaborated with Sport Australia, the Minerva Network and Ducere to identify and explore the barriers that contributed towards a lack of female leadership positions in the sporting industry.
“For Australian sport to flourish there needs to be diversity of thought, and female CEOs in sport are drastically underrepresented. The objective of our collaboration is to ensure we play a vital role in influencing a blueprint for the future development and enhancement of women within sporting leadership positions and to establish a best practice globally, which is not only limited to sporting organisations.”
Sharpe says he is “proud” that 50 per cent of Sport Integrity Australia’s senior leadership group and 50 per cent of overall staff are women. Highlights for the year include our celebrations of International Women’s Day with swimming coach Tracey Menzies, National Reconciliation Week with UC Capitals star Abby Cubillo, a proud Larrakia woman from the Darwin region, and Play True Day with Sarah Cook, former rower, and now coach and administrator.
NATIONAL INTEGRITY FRAMEWORK
The roll out of the National Integrity Framework for sport in March 2021 supports a streamlined and coordinated policy framework for sport in Australia. This framework will be accompanied by education and support programs for sports to ensure that athletes and sports are afforded the highest level of protection, with independence being the key factor in managing complaints.
In partnership with the National Office for Child Safety, Sport Integrity Australia is working with sport to develop the Safeguarding in Sport Continuous Improvement Program, acknowledging that all sports are different,