The role of boards and management
in the oversight of sports scientists
Every AFL board would have been
suddenly asking this specific question: what policies do we have in place to
make sure this does not happen in our club? Talk about a wake-up call. It is
massive. Out of bad has to come some good.
This chapter discusses the role of boards and management in sporting
organisations and clubs to ensure that appropriate ethical governance
arrangements are in place. It summarises some of the steps taken by the
Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL) following
the Australian Crime Commission's (ACC) report released in February 2013. The
chapter examines the following issues:
- ethical governance within teams;
- ethical governance within sporting codes;
- a principles-based approach to effective corporate governance;
- football in Australia;
- Olympic sports; and
- the influence of professional sports on grassroots sports.
Ethical governance within teams
Submitters and witnesses to this inquiry referred to the responsibility
of boards and management to ensure that appropriate governance and integrity
measures are in place within sporting clubs. They argued that as the employers
of sports scientists, club administrators have a duty to be informed about the
practices being carried out by their staff.
Dr Hugh Seward, Chief Executive of the AFL Medical Officers Association
I think that clubs need to understand the very essence of
integrity, and I think that the clubs and the personnel at high levels in clubs
need to rise above that desire of 'win at all costs' and understand that your
desperate efforts to win must still be within wise, considered, broader ethical
An informed board
It is an established feature of the common law in Australia that a
director of a company is unable to hide behind ignorance of a company's
affairs. The Australasian College of Sports Physicians (ACSP) has argued that
as a principle, the boards and management of sporting organisations 'must be
obliged to inform themselves of sports science practices, definition and
regulations relevant to their organisation'.
The noted sports journalist, Mr Tim Lane, has claimed that if any group should
be criticised over the recent scandal in Australian sport:
... it is not sports scientists. It is a much more specific
group: one with names and faces. It is the club's administrative and football
managers. And to that should be added the senior players who failed to
recognise the danger of what was upon them as they were taken away from the
club for treatment outside the norm.
In order to protect the interests of athletes, several submitters referred
to the need for leadership by the boards and management of sporting clubs. The
need for accountability was a recurring theme. The Australian Olympic Committee
In our experience, the sports scientists working with
athletes more often than not carry the weight of the authority of the club or
organisation to which the athlete belongs. They will come with the tacit
support and implied imprimatur of the coaching and technical staff, and the
club/organisation. Athletes will rely on and trust their judgement – sometimes
The National Institute Network (NIN) put the view that:
... communication processes and clear lines of accountability
are essential to prevent adverse behaviour and to minimise risks to athletes,
coaches and, in the larger context to the organisation as a whole.
However, Applied Scientists of Queensland identified that—in terms of decision
making within the structure of sporting organisations—a significant limitation is the lack of:
... responsibility to respond to complaints and issues from
external and internal staff, or the existence of an official complaint process.
For example, if a sport scientist finds a directive or practice from their
manager against their professional judgement there is no channel to officially
note their concern, and alternatively if management disagrees with a scientific
approach they are unable to argue on a scientific level due to [the] discipline
and research specific nature of the knowledge involved. An informal board made
up of senior scientists and management could exist as a facilitator within
sporting organisations for concerns to be aired, presenting a mediation style
setting to allow the group to move forward with the best interests of the
athlete and group as their primary concern.
The governance structures within sporting clubs are fundamentally
important to ensuring that the ethical standards of sports scientists are met.
The Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPS) noted in
its submission that:
... the position of the sports scientists in the organisation
chart and the reporting lines that flow from this vary from one organisation or
club to the next. This depends on the experience and status of the individuals
who make up the team.
COMPPS described the structures in sporting organisations as follows:
While there are no hard and fast rules, the high-performance
team is usually in the third or fourth level of management.
The CEO is at the first level. Several general managers or
directors form the next level and report directly to the CEO. The head of the
high-performance team usually reports to one of these general managers or
directors who is responsible for the operational side of the entity, often
entitled “General Manager Operations” or “Director of Operations”.
In some sports entities, the head of the high-performance
team will report to a head coach or director of coaching who will in turn
report to a general manager, placing the sports scientist at the fourth level
In some organisations, the head of the high-performance team
will report directly to the CEO, placing him or her at the second level of
In COMPPS's view, organisations should be left to form their own
organisational charts and 'put in place the controls, systems and processes
that minimise risk'.
However, its Executive Director, Mr Malcolm Speed, cautioned:
A key issue in the governance side of this is that there
needs to be a process to enable the escalation of serious issues to the chief
executive and to the board, and we have seen some failings in that respect.
Mr Speed argued that in the 'large majority of clubs', there already
exists a culture that does not tolerate practices that put the health of
athletes at risk. He suggested:
I think the culture stems from the people who are employed
within the clubs, right from the board down to the sports science practitioners
and the people who report to them. We need to put processes in place where the
board empowers the chief executive to make sure that that culture is not one of
win at all costs, if that involves stepping across the line. Sporting bodies know
where that line is. There needs to be a culture there that goes right through
the organisation that depends on the people who are employed within the
organisation holding each other accountable and making sure that those
processes are followed, and if they are not followed there is an effective
reporting mechanism that is able to escalate the issues and make sure it gets
to the right level.
The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport (DRALGAS)
submitted that sporting clubs should 'adequately reference check new employees
As chapter 5 discussed, however, the absence of a compulsory accreditation
scheme for sports scientists means that employers do not have a formal way of
determining whether individuals are appropriately qualified. A proposal by
DRALGAS to assist employer organisations to conduct reference checking,
particularly in cross-code employment situations, was discussed in chapter 5.
Acknowledging the challenges currently facing boards and management
teams within sporting organisations, the Council of Heads of Exercise, Sport
and Movement Sciences noted that a more regulated and defined scope of
practice for sports science would enable administrators to:
... have a better understanding of the role description and the
essential qualifications of a sports scientist prior to employing such staff.
The current undefined ‘space’ in which a sports scientist operates is difficult
for any organisation to manage given that the individual is usually working
independently of any code of practice, ethical guidelines or requirements for
continuing professional development.
The AOC stressed the importance of adequate employment practices:
Unless the employment process is sufficiently rigorous and there
are effective policies and procedures in place [to] continuously monitor the
work of a sports scientist, there will not be effective safeguards in place to
deal with the pressure of achieving a ‘performance edge’ and the financial
rewards for doing so. Safeguards are needed to ensure the same controls are
placed on ‘freelance’ sports scientists as within the more structured sporting
Assistant Professor Annette Greenhow
claimed in her submission to the committee that governing bodies have a role to
- recognising an accreditation regime and reviewing procurement
policies to establish accreditation as an eligibility requirement for
contractors and consultants; and
- 'establishing and maintaining a central register of contractors,
detailing qualifications, accreditation, and treatments provided'.
Ethical governance within sporting codes
Dr David Hughes, Chief Medical Officer at the Australian Institute of
Sport (AIS), referred to the role played by national sporting organisations
the academies and institutes that make up the NIN
and the Australian Sports Commission
(ASC) as 'guardians' of ethical behaviour within Australian sport.
Greenhow submitted that in terms of oversight of sports scientists, the current
regulatory arrangement appears to rest solely with sporting clubs, 'with little
or no involvement' from governing bodies such as the AFL and NRL.
She suggested that this reflects
'a lack of oversight and governance' on the part of governing bodies, which, as
administrators, organisers and regulators of national competitions, are in a
position of 'power and influence both in a practical and legal sense'.
In Assistant Professor
Greenhow's view, there is scope for governing bodies to 'take the lead role and
co-ordinate a reconfiguration of the regulatory arena to achieve a transparent,
robust and effective regulatory framework for sports scientists in professional
She noted that:
In professional football, the governing body is the dominant
actor in the regulatory space and has the capacity to control and influence [the]
behaviour of others. Examples can be found in the control over funding,
salaries, collective bargaining agreements and player contracts, and the
development, implementation and enforcement of policies designed to promote the
public interest in areas such as anti-doping, behavioural standards and codes
The ASC argued that
'improved supervision by sports over sports science practices is necessary'.
The committee heard evidence that code-wide oversight is necessary to prevent
rogue or unethical individuals from moving between clubs. As Dr Hughes
from the AIS argued:
I think the revelations of the ACC report have largely been
interpreted—through the media—as showing great deficiencies in the profession
of sports science. I think it is very arguable that what they have actually
shown is great deficiencies in the internal governance of some sporting
organisations, which makes those sporting organisations vulnerable to unethical
individuals. I am not aware of the ongoing ASADA investigations into these
matters and I am not privy to all the details, but what I am privy to—from
reading the ACC report which has been released—is that there appear to have
been one or two individuals who have wandered around from organisation to
organisation and who have had undue influence within those organisations
without being bound to the code of conduct of those organisations. That is a
reflection of poor governance of sporting organisations, not a reflection of
the behaviour of sports science as a profession.
Dr Jason Mazanov told the committee that there is a lack of clarity
around ethical practices:
I still haven't heard anyone articulate what 'ethics' [means]—what
is right. We have heard platitudes and assurances: 'We will do what is
right.' But what is that? No-one has actually articulated to my
satisfaction what is the right set of behaviour around the practice of
enhancing performance in sport.
A principles-based approach to effective corporate governance
In addition to clear lines of reporting and an informed board, effective
corporate governance at both the code and club level will be aided by a set of
sport governance principles. The following section sets out the committee's
evidence on the principles proposed by the ASC and the AIS.
ASC's Sport Governance Principles
In 2012, the ASC revised its Sport Governance Principles (the ASC
Principles). They are reproduced at Appendix 3.
The ASC Principles have historically contained guidelines within which
the ASC believes a sporting organisation's Board members should operate and
enact their role. The ASC states on its website:
It is uncontested that governance structures significantly
affect the performance of sporting organisations. Where they are present,
ineffective governance practices not only impact on the sport, but also
undermine confidence in the Australian sports industry as a whole.
While the ASC Principles were promoted as guidelines and NSOs were
encouraged to comply with them, the ASC announced in March 2013 that some of
the principles are now mandatory. This followed the ASC's High Performance
Strategy, Australia's Winning Edge, released in November 2012. The ASC
will assess the current governance arrangements of NSOs and develop
implementation plans, which will be reflected in the funding agreements that
the ASC has with the NSOs.
Twenty per cent of the funding provided by the ASC to the top seven funded
sports in Australia will be contingent on the sports demonstrating compliance
with the ASC principles on at least an annual basis.
One of the key planks of the strategy is to ensure that NSOs:
... have the structure, workforce and leadership capacity to
develop successful programs to achieve competitive results and to spend taxpayer
The ASC called for a new level of accountability from NSOs:
Confidence in the leadership capacity and capability of
sports—particularly in relation to management, governance, internal controls
and business systems—is acknowledged as being critical. Sports will be required
to demonstrate good leadership, governance and administration as part of the
annual investment and review process.
The ASC also introduced new requirements to ensure appropriate integrity
safeguards in NSOs are in place. These safeguards stipulate that:
boards should adopt and observe the Sports Science Best Practice
Principles to be promulgated shortly by the Australian Institute of Sport (the
largest employer of sports scientists in Australia);
boards should have in place proper investigation, supervision and
reporting practices in relation to the sports science practices in use in their
sport. These should be either direct to the Board or through no other person
than the CEO. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ will not be a satisfactory position for
Boards to adopt; they will have a positive obligation to inform themselves
about sports science practices and to supervise them in a manner consistent
with ASADA, ASC and Australian Government policies.
The AOC 'applauds and supports' the requirement for NSOs to sign up to
ASC integrity principles.
Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) welcomed the reform for
supporting 'the implementation of systems and accountability of organisational
The ASC released the AIS Sport Science/Sports Medicine Best Practice
Principles (the AIS Principles) on 29 May 2013. In announcing the release, the
Minister for Sport explained:
These new principles will further ensure that sports science
at the AIS continues to be pursued within appropriate ethical boundaries and
with strong governance arrangements ... The principles have rightly placed
athlete health and welfare as paramount ... Importantly, other sporting
organisations will now be able to look to the AIS principles as a guide for
developing their own policies and procedures.
The release of the AIS Principles has been described as a move by the
ASC to 'inject some leadership over the issue of governance and sports
The ASC submitted that the principles:
... outline the AIS' approach to sports science policies and
practices and should assist sports to ensure that appropriate governance
protocols and processes lead the implementation of integrity based sports
It was also reported that the AIS will brief all 60 sports that receive
funding from the ASC on the new guidelines.
Dr Hughes of the AIS referred to a 'great willingness across Australian sport'
to ensure that internal governance, reporting and organisational structural
reforms are taken on board.
He referred to confidence at the ASC and the National Integrity of Sport Unit
(NISU) that the reforms being introduced by the Government will:
... have a profound effect by improving governance and removing
some of the behaviours that have been witnessed. We are optimistic that we can
make a great and very beneficial change for Australian sport.
Dr Hughes described five key areas of focus contained in the AIS
... firstly, ensuring that sports scientists are qualified and
supervised; two, having policies in place that guide all sorts of science
activities; three, educating athletes ... coaches and staff [about] policies and
appropriate behaviour; four, undertaking detection and enforcing sanctions [where]
appropriate; and five ... a reporting framework that ensures that boards and
senior managers are kept informed about all sports science activities taking
place in the organisation. So the idea is to have a cyclical reporting
framework whereby boards are informed at all times about sports science
activities taking place in the organisation.
COMPPS noted that the AIS Principles seek to put in place a more
comprehensive process in relation to the Board of Directors in sporting
organisations than is current practice.
In particular, COMPPS referred to the obligation for Boards to:
... inform themselves as to [sports science and sports
medicine] practices of the organisation, to ensure that they are best practice,
promote a culture of integrity and to comply with legislative and regulatory requirements.
While COMPPS acknowledged that the AIS Principles are comprehensive, it
submitted that 'the professional sports have not yet had the opportunity to
assess, discuss and evaluate the proposed principles'.
Mr Malcolm Speed, Executive Director at COMPPS, noted that the AIS Principles:
... place a high onus on the board—perhaps a variation of the
normal role we see for the board to deal primarily with strategic and
high-level issues. There are detailed reporting requirements in those
guidelines. Ultimately, it will be for the sports to address as to whether they
wish to adopt them and whether the clubs wish to adopt them. My personal view
is that they are entirely reasonable, and that they would fit well into the
structure of most professional sporting clubs within the professional leagues.
The NIN described the AIS Principles as a 'valuable addition to the
tools and guidance available to the NIN and National Organisations'.
The AOC supported the oversight and reporting framework recommended in
the AIS Principles:
The AOC firmly believes that Boards should have in place
proper investigation, supervision and reporting practices in relation to the
sports science practices within their sport/club. A “don’t ask, don’t tell”
mentality should never be a satisfactory position for Boards to adopt.
The ACSP also recommended the adoption of the AIS Principles. It
submitted that 'all sporting organisations must have a clear policy framework
which provides parameters for sport science activities within the organisation'.
It also believes that there should be a structured and cyclical reporting
process, whereby boards are informed of:
- new staff employed in the sports science department;
- appropriate induction processes and background checks on new
- any change to sports science and sports medicine protocols over
the reporting period; and
- any breaches of Code of Conduct during the reporting period.
ESSA commended the accountable framework established by the AIS
Its strength is that it does mandate that the boards have a
responsibility to ensure that appropriately qualified and accredited personnel
are in place. If the board have done that, and that is one of many
responsibilities of the board as part of their monitoring role, and something
goes wrong, then you would argue that perhaps the board are in the right. But
if the board have not adhered to that guideline and they have recruited a
non-accredited sports scientist and something goes wrong, then yes, the board
needs to be accountable.
The Australian Athletes' Alliance (AAA)—the
peak body for Australia's eight elite players' associations—submitted that while the
AIS Principles contain 'many sound ideas', they 'go beyond what is warranted
for elite professional athletes'.
The AAA expressed particular reservations about the Medication Policy
This principle recommends that sporting organisations:
should have a written Medication Policy, approved by the
organisation’s advising medical practitioner, which governs the use of
prescription and over-the-counter medication by athletes.
The principle suggests that the Medication Policy should include
requirements that athletes only 'use medication as directed by the
organisation’s medical practitioner' and to 'report to the organisation’s medical
practitioner when they have obtained or used medication from sources other than
the organisation’s medical practitioner'.
Mr Matthew Finnis, Director of the AAA, told the committee that this may
represent an unwarranted intrusion into the privacy of athletes, for instance
requiring them to provide information to the club's medical practitioner about
matters relating to mental illness, sexual health and contraception.
Mr Finnis said the concern that the AAA has:
... on behalf of the athletes is to ensure that as this focus
is on the practice of sports scientists we need to make sure that the
regulatory framework or lens is aimed at this space and not seeking to impose
further regulatory obligation on the athletes themselves, who are already the
subject of that. We also must ensure that we preserve key principles, such as
doctor-patient privilege, and we must continue to support this overriding
public interest that we encourage people to seek medical advice and treatment
if they have a concern as to their health.
Senator Richard Di Natale 's view
Senator Richard Di Natale is of the view that any regulation of the
sports science profession must be accompanied by improvements in the cultures
of employer sporting bodies. This is essential in order for athlete health and
welfare and the integrity of sport to be protected. The Senator views
strengthening governance arrangements—both
within clubs and among sporting codes—and
promoting best practice as central pillars of a robust framework in which
behaviours and integrity measures can be improved.
Senator Di Natale commends the efforts of the ASC to improve governance
and sports science practice principles as represented by the ASC and AIS
Principles. The Senator views the ASC Principles as practical measures to
improve accountability within NSOs and to promote appropriate integrity
safeguards. Senator Di Natale supports making the principles mandatory.
Senator Di Natale also recognises the leadership exhibited by the ASC in
promoting the AIS Principles and the AIS as a centre of excellence. The Senator
recommends that the principles be recognised as promoting best practice
principles and be adopted and adhered to by NSOs.
Senator Di Natale notes the concerns raised by the AAA about the
practical consequences for athletes of some of the AIS Principles, particularly
those dealing with medical reporting. The Senator is sympathetic to the view
that a framework designed to ensure the integrity of the practice of sports
science should not place onerous or unreasonable burdens on athletes,
particularly in relation to unnecessary intrusions into their privacy. Senator
Di Natale therefore recommends that the ASC periodically engage in a
consultative review of both the ASC Principles the AIS Principles to ensure
that they strike the right balance between strengthening integrity and
respecting the rights and best interests of athletes.
Senator Di Natale recommends that the Australian Sports
Commission's Sports Governance Principles and AIS Sports Science/Sports
Medicine Best Practice Principles be:
- recognised as promoting best practice principles;
- adopted and adhered to by Australian sporting organisations; and
- periodically reviewed to ensure that they strike the right
balance between strengthening integrity measures and respecting the rights and
best interests of athletes.
Australian Sports Integrity Network
In May 2013, the then Minister for Sport, Senator the Hon. Kate Lundy,
announced that the NISU had established the Australian Sports Integrity Network
(ASIN), a group 'comprising the integrity heads from about 20 of Australia’s
Mr Richard Eccles, Deputy Secretary of DRALGAS, informed the committee
that the NISU has received a significant level of support 'from across all
Further information about the ASIN, however, including its role,
composition and progress to date, is not currently available. Senator Di Natale
queries why this is so given the time that has elapsed since the Minister for
Senator Di Natale recommends that the federal Minister for Sport make publicly
available information about the role, composition and progress of the Australian
Sports Integrity Network.
Football in Australia
Clubs in two major football codes in Australia—the AFL and the NRL—are currently the subject of the Australian
Sports Anti-Doping Authority's formal investigation into drugs in sport. The
committee was therefore very disappointed that representatives from both codes
failed to attend the inquiry's public hearing. The AFL and NRL instead opted
for Mr Malcolm Speed, Executive Director at COMPPS, to appear on their
behalf. The committee felt that these organisations missed an opportunity
to assist the committee in its consideration of avenues of reform. The committee
notes that neither body would have been required to answer questions relating
to the specifics of ASADA's investigation.
The recent experiences of the AFL and NRL indicate the importance of
good governance practices that are built on creating structures based on key
principles: promoting transparency and protecting athlete health and welfare.
Australian Football League
The AFL receives annual grants from the ASC for a number of activities,
including for sport development (coaching, umpiring and community club
programs), as well as the AIS/AFL Academy.
As an NSO, the AFL is subject to the ASC Principles.
The AFL has said that hiring decisions for sports scientists are the
responsibility of individual clubs.
However, in March 2012 it was reported that the AFL had unofficially declared
war on high-performance managers due to frustration at their growing influence
The AFL had become concerned that in some cases doctors were deferring to high-performance
staff. AFL football operations head Adrian Anderson was quoted as saying:
Sports scientists, high performance managers, whatever you
want to call them, have a very legitimate and important role to play in the
game ... But we need to make it clear that doctors are the only ones
qualified to be making medical decisions ... We're talking about issues such as
when a player can return from injury, what sort of treatment occurs,
diagnostics. It is very important to make this clear from a medical
perspective where the players' safety and welfare are concerned and also for
medical legal reasons. We'd hate to have a situation where a decision was made
on a player's medical condition by someone who wasn't a doctor and that player
decided to take legal action quite apart from his welfare.
In the same article, Mr Andrew Demetriou, the Chief Executive of the
AFL, was quoted as saying: 'It should be very clear at all clubs that where
there is a medical issue the doctor has the final say'.
Demetriou referred to sports science and fitness personnel as 'phys-edders', saying
'Phys-edders don't overrule doctors'.
These comments prompted criticism from Professor David Bishop, a board
member of ESSA, who said:
Given the integral role of sport scientists in
high-performance departments, it is disappointing to see the recent disparaging
comments emanating from the AFL in this regard ... In particular, the reference
by AFL CEO, Andrew Demetriou to sport scientists as 'phys-edders' reflects that
either the AFL's thinking is 30 years out of date, or that there is a deliberate
lack of respect for the many highly-qualified and highly respected sport
scientists who work in the AFL.
In September 2012, it was reported that AFL clubs were spending twice
the amount on key training personnel that they had two seasons previously, with
half of the AFL's 18 clubs paying their key fitness coaches more than $300 000
In response to criticism, an advisory board for club performance managers
was restructured to form the AFL Sports Science Association.
The new body has been described, however, as an informal organisation that does
Only weeks before the ACC report was released and ASADA's investigation
was announced, the AFL Sports Science Association claimed that 'isolated
problems between fitness and conditioning personnel and club doctors had been
The association's head, Mr Rob Aughey, said that trouble was not expected
in the 2013 season and referred to 'isolated instances' of issues regarding how
sports science and 'medical and physio staff' had worked together.
On 25 March 2013, however, Mr Demetriou conceded that the AFL should
have acted earlier on concerns about the growing influence of sports scientists
at some clubs:
... there were certain things going on, certain practices,
particularly with marginalising our club doctors, which was unacceptable.
By then the practice of sports science had become a major issue for the
AFL and Australian sport generally.
On 27 February 2013, Mr David Evans, Chairman of the Essendon Football
Club, announced an independent review of governance and processes at the club.
Dr Ziggy Switkowski was appointed by the board of Essendon to lead the
review and his report was released on 6 May 2013.
According to the report, the period of interest for the review began
... recruitment of new personnel and leaders for the High
Performance team at the end of the 2011 season. This new group of experts in
player strength and conditioning was given considerable space within which to
operate and found little early resistance to their sometimes unconventional
The arrival of confident, opinionated staff was not
accompanied by a simultaneous strengthening of the processes within Football
Operations, or by extra vigilance by senior management.
The report noted that sports scientists have gained influence at most
AFL clubs, but that where it works well 'these professionals partner with the
medical staff to develop bespoke programs for each player, and rarely consider
use of unconventional supplements or treatments'.
However, in the case of Essendon, Dr Switkowski identified a number of
management processes that 'broke down, failed or were short-circuited',
including: the management of contractors; the hierarchy of decision making in
the club's Football Department and administrative processes.
The report blamed poor internal processes and improvised fixes on a climate in
the club that created conflicts.
Dr Switkowski recommended that:
... a clear framework of accountability and authority must be
established and complied with. In general, the club doctor should be expected
to be the signing authority for all medicines, supplements, diagnostic tests
and therapeutic treatments.
Senator Di Natale reiterates the committee's view, expressed in chapter
1, that the protection of athlete health and welfare must always be the highest
priority and overriding consideration in the pursuit of improved performance. The
Senator believes that club doctors or medical professionals must be consulted
where a decision affects an athlete's health and welfare.
The failings of governance at Essendon, and the demonstrated need for
clear accountability, serve as timely lessons for other sports clubs and
National Rugby League
Sports scientists in the NRL
The NRL announced on 7 February 2013 that accountancy firm Deloitte had
been appointed to audit the sports science department of one of the league's
The NRL also announced that it had appointed a former Federal Court judge, the
Hon. Tony Whitlam QC, to establish a permanent NRL Integrity and
In announcing the unit, the NRL said that it was committed to 'requiring
team doctors to review any instance where supplements, substances or other
procedures may have been administered without the prior approval of the team
On 21 February 2013, an NRL spokesman said clubs had promised to be
transparent about the sports science they use and the staff they employ.
News Limited journalist Mr Patrick Smith wrote that one club, the Cronulla
... was quick to remove four staff but was roundly criticised
by the league community for its decision. Such has been the angst, the club is
now into its third chairman since the dismissals and coach Shane Flanagan has
been recalled. 
This illustrates the doubt in a number of teams—across sporting codes—while the ASADA investigation is ongoing.
Like the AFL, the NRL does not have specific requirements for its sports
scientists to have accredited qualifications.
However, the NRL submitted that it is 'currently examining registration and
accreditation practices for all football support staff including sports
scientists working in NRL Clubs' and this work is being undertaken by the
Integrity and Compliance Unit.
Recognising the leadership role to be played by the Chief Executive
Officer, the NRL summarised its position on governance and sports scientists as
... as with any role or position within an organisation or
club, the NRL supports proper oversights and best-practice governance.
Unqualified persons and unethical behaviour has no role in any
organisation and it is our view that overview of staff within a club
environment ultimately rests with the CEO. Whilst a Board will set the
strategic direction and oversee club activities, implementation including staff
appointments and clear reporting lines rightfully rest with a CEO. Therefore,
in terms of the appointment and role of sports scientists within a club
environment the NRL views the club CEO as the appropriate level of management
to ultimately oversee the role. Whilst sport scientists are most likely to sit
within football departments and/or high performance teams their day-to-day
activities should be monitored by the club doctor or chief medical officer
within a football/coaching/high performance team environment with ultimate
oversight resting with the Club CEO.
The AOC referred in its submission to differences between the frameworks
in the NIN and those in place in NSOs such as the AFL and NRL:
... ‘freelance’ sports scientists largely working with
professional sporting codes tend to operate outside of any institutionalised
regulatory framework. Government funding of sporting organisations or the heavy
reliance by sporting organisations on the provision of services by institute employed
sports scientists tends to result in a stronger regulatory framework being in
place. The same cannot necessarily be said for sporting codes where government
or statutory entities such as the AIS tend to be less influential.
In comparison to professional sporting codes, the AOC submitted that in
Employment processes tend to ensure that individuals have
appropriate qualifications for the services required and that their work
practices are heavily monitored and regulated by the institutes themselves. In
addition, these institutions tend to have government style management practices
in place in the form of Risk Management, Ethics and Supplements Committees,
with responsibility for reviewing and ensuring adherence to policies and
procedures developed in areas such as supplements. Further, these institutes
tend to follow system wide quality assurance standards including laboratory
accreditation thereby providing some safeguards against unethical or
While Athletics Australia (AA) established that the ACC report did not
contain specific evidence relating to athletics, it nonetheless announced that
it was fast-tracking the formation of a new Ethics and Integrity Unit.
Chief Executive Mr Dallas O'Brien said that the unit would keep watch over
sports science practices and its governance regulations only needed 'tweaking'
to comply with the ASC's integrity requirements.
This followed the ASC's announcement—discussed
earlier in this chapter—that
Olympic sports, including swimming, athletics, cycling, sailing, rowing, hockey
and basketball, could face funding cuts of up to 20 per cent if they failed to
comply with its new governance principles.
AA submitted that while it has an oversight mechanism for sports science
in place through an electronic reporting system and 'interdisciplinary case
conferences', this does not apply where athletes and/or their advisors set up
Professional vs grassroots sports
Submitters and witnesses to this inquiry largely focused on sport at the
elite level. However, several references were made to the increasing influence
of sports science at sub-elite levels, including amateur and junior
Dr Jason Mazanov argued that sports science is increasingly entering
We need to do more than just protect those people at the top
of the game, who are vulnerable but still adults. We need to protect those at
the bottom of the game, who are incredibly vulnerable, even to their parents.
Dr Mazanov was also concerned that the emphasis placed in elite sports
on high performance would affect the focus of amateur and junior sport. He
At the federal level the focus of the sports academy and
institute system in Australia is to use sports health science to provide a
competitive advantage through enhanced performance (e.g. world records). The
need to prioritise athlete health and welfare has been lost in pursuit of
Olympic medals ... Given the Australian pyramid model for sport, this change must
come from the top. How Australia prioritises health and welfare among the elite
becomes the model for how club and junior sport prioritises health and welfare
for the rest of Australia.
Dr Peter Larkins also emphasised the need for standards and frameworks
to filter down to all levels of sport.
ESSA advised the committee that individuals working as sports scientists
below the elite level 'typically either have an undergraduate degree or [are]
working towards an undergraduate degree'.
After obtaining postgraduate qualifications these individuals tend to migrate
to employment at the elite level.
However, ESSA indicated that students and relatively junior professionals are
working with teams in under-18 competitions and in private schools.
Professional sporting organisations have a vested interest in the
success of sports at the grassroots level. The NRL referred to 1.4 million
playing participants in rugby league across Australia and said that it 'works
to foster, develop and grow the game by bringing people together and enriching
their lives through rugby league'.
COMPPS noted that its member sports provide a large portion of their
revenue to enhancing, promoting and developing sports at the grassroots level
in addition to national competitions.
Dr David Hughes, Chief Medical Officer at the AIS, referred to school-run
football programs as 'nurseries' for the AFL and NRL.
Senator Di Natale's view
At sub-elite levels, a 'win at all costs' mentality may not be present,
or may only have a marginal influence. Without the financial incentives and
pressures that apply in the professional sporting arena, the opportunities and the
rationale for sports scientists to push ethical and legal boundaries are
Without the financial resources of professional clubs, there is also a
significant disparity between the ability of sub-elite teams to implement
effective governance arrangements compared to those in the AFL and NRL.
Senator Di Natale recognises that any proposed reforms—particularly in relation
to government arrangements and responsibilities—may
impact disproportionately on amateur sporting organisations.
There have been several important recent developments with the
responsible Government bodies and peak football codes establishing governance
principles and integrity units. Senator Di Natale believes that overarching
sport governance principles have an important role to play in terms of ensuring
that sports scientists act ethically. The Senator believes that these
principles should be mandatory.
Senator Di Natale also believes there is a need for clubs to adopt
governance structures that reflect these broad principles. Specifically, professional
sporting bodies must ensure transparency and prioritise the health and welfare
To this end, Senator Di Natale has identified three key governance
practices that should be established by all professional sporting clubs with
the assistance and endorsement of the peak body. They are:
- regular reporting of the activities of sports scientists to the
CEO and the board;
- the primacy of medical advice and direction over the decisions of
sports scientists, such that sports scientists must seek endorsement from club
doctors where decisions affect athlete health and welfare; and
- the importance of ensuring that while the CEO and the board are
kept informed of the activities of sports scientists, the privacy of athletes
and the protection of personal medical information are ensured.
Senator Di Natale recommends that where a qualified medical practitioner
is employed by a sporting organisation or team, the medical practitioner be
required to approve any decision relating to athlete health and welfare
including the use of supplements. Further, a sport scientist should be required
to consult with an organisation or team’s medical officer regarding supplements
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