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Safeguarding minors in the sports industry

In the era of #metoo and with publication of "Set the Standard" (the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins) hot off the press, it is time for participants in the sports industry to ensure they have implemented and are following best practice in the prevention of and response to any instances of bullying, sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Claims of bullying and harassment in elite sport have recently gained significant media attention, including the "Athlete A" documentary which exposed decades of abuse within the USA Gymnastics system. Closer to home, the recent "Change the Routine"  Independent Review into Gymnastics in Australia by the Human Rights Commission, observed the "win-at-all-costs" culture that prevailed across the sport and created unacceptable risks for the safety and wellbeing of young athletes.

Other high profile Australian sporting bodies such as Football Australia, Hockey Australia and Swimming Australia have recently shown that they are taking the issue seriously and have commissioned independent reviews into their own sports.

One of the key findings by the Change the Routine Report was that the sport at all levels had not appropriately and adequately addressed complaints of abuse and harm, and was consequently not effectively safeguarding children and young people. Contributing factors to this included a lack of internal expertise, resources, and complicated governance structures.

To keep children and young people safe within the sports industry, the Human Rights Commission highlighted 12 recommendations for sporting bodies to implement, including:

  • All matters regarding child abuse and neglect, misconduct, bullying, sexual harassment, and assault be investigated externally of the sport;
  • Establish interim and ongoing oversight over relevant complaints at all levels of the sport;
  • Establish a toll-free triage, referral and reporting telephone service operated by Sport Integrity Australia; and
  • Align current governance with Sport Australia’s Sport Governance Principles more consistently and effectively.

As we previously reported in John Mullins' article titled New Child Sex Offence Laws for Sporting Clubs, mandatory reporting laws exist in Australia and sporting organisations are obliged to comply with the respective child protection legislation that exists in each Australian state and territory. Since July 2021, in Queensland:

  • all adults must report sexual offending against children to the police unless they have a reasonable excuse; and
  • adults in an institutional setting (which includes a sporting club) must protect children from the risk of a sexual offence being committed.

In this crucial time of change, the Australian sports industry needs to ensure our children and young people are safe and protected in order for us to continue to grow and succeed as an industry.

Article written by Juanita Maiden (Senior Associate) 

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."