Welcome to Season 3 of On Side. We’re looking forward to monthly episodes as we get ready for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing, along with the men’s World Cup and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
Join Tim Gavel as he chats to James Johnson, Emma Johnson and Jacob Holmes, during this pivotal time in Australian sport, and hear them reflect on the potential impact they believe Football Australia’s decision will have on the future of sport in this country.
Earlier this month a number of Australian female soccer players spoke out about allegations of abuse in the sport and as a result Football Australia approached Sport Integrity Australia and the National Sports Tribunal to investigate the allegations.
In this episode we look at the importance of having an independent organisation handling complaints, investigations and tribunals in Australian sport.
Football Australia CEO James Johnson was quick to recognise that an in-house approach to handling complaints was not going to be enough with the Australian community expecting a greater level of independence.
“It hit the sport like a tsunami and we had to respond quickly and I was comforted by the fact we were already in touch with Sport Integrity Australia about how we could improve in this area, so we were able to enter a partnership very quickly,” he says.
Johnson acknowledges the need to provide a forum where there can be feedback that is independent of the sport so that victims can feel comfortable and safe, without fear of their complaints impacting the future of their sporting career.
“It’s about the victims. If someone is aggrieved they need to have an avenue/forum independent of us. They need to be able to talk their experience, their issue and it needs to be someone who is listening and not someone making sporting decisions.”
“There are two objectives”, says Johnson, “One is about solving the issues for the victims and secondly it’s about breeding confidence back into the sport, that if there are issues, they will be dealt with.”
Deputy CEO of Sport Integrity Australia, Emma Johnson, is pleased Football Australia agreed to take on the independent complaints handling model.
“These matters are complex and a lot of sports haven’t always had the capacity to deal with these things, particularly at this serious end of allegations”, she says, “So this was the best way we thought we could support them and support athletes in sport”.
“We’ve seen in the last twelve months a real shift and an awakening across sport that they need systems and processes in place to deal with issues like this,” she continues, “There’s definitely an appetite across the board for the improvement of integrity policies and culture in sport.”
Jacob Holmes, CEO of the peak body representing Australia’s elite professional athletes, the Australia Athletes Alliance, concurs.
“We all want in sport for athletes to feel supported, empowered and that they can come to a confidential body”, says Holmes.
Holmes highlights there has been a power imbalance for athletes in sport, but the new independent approach to complaints handling goes a long way to giving power back to those who may not have had it otherwise.
“We have to be better at providing those support mechanisms, a voice and a representation within the actual institutions of integrity in sport for athletes to actually feel empowered in that way,” he says.
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