Sports Australia maintains that sporting organisations have an obligation to ensure that their sport “is safe, fair and inclusive for everyone involved”. A member protection policy (MPP) is key to achieving this and is also a great risk management tool for sporting organisations. MPPs normally bind members, coaches, parents, employees and board members of an organisation to the policy.
Simply, a MPP sets out the standards expected of those involved in sport, how members can make complaints if they believe these standards are not being met and how those complaints will be handled. For example, most MPP’s contain a code of conduct which will generally contain a section on discrimination. If a member has a complaint that someone has breached the MPP due to discrimination, a complaint can be made under the policy and the organisation will be bound to then investigate the complaint in accordance with the MPP. Typically this process involves trying to resolve the complaint between the parties, and failing that an investigation or hearing may take place. Sanctions can vary.
A Member Protection Information Officer (MPIO) should be appointed by organisations to receive any complaints under a MPP. The role of an MPIO is broad but briefly, they should provide information and support to people seeking information. Depending on the size of the organisation, more than one MPIO may be appropriate. However, MPIO’s do not provide advice to individuals or handle complaints.
Where a complaint is made it should be lodged in accordance with the MPP. A complaint should be taken seriously and managed strictly in accordance with an organisation’s MPP. A failure to do this can cause significant cost to an organisation in terms of cost, reputation and member welfare.
In order to handle a complaint under the MPP, those tasked with complaint handling under the Policy will require training. Such training should cover off:
- the purpose of the policy and the importance of their role as a complaint managers
- the terms of the policy
- the process that should be followed including understanding the appeal process
- the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness and how this impacts on complaint handling and the process
- the need for confidentiality
The most common concerns raised regarding the process followed generally relate to allegations that natural justice and procedural fairness have not been applied. For example, a person may complain that they were not given an opportunity to respond to the complaint, or a person may complain that they did not have sufficient time to respond to the complaint. While at a grass roots level these issues may not seem significant, members may complain where the stakes increase; for example when it means they miss out on selection because of a complaint they believe was mishandled.
The solution to such problems is to ensure that the organisation’s MPP is well understood with employees, members, coaches, parents and the Board. Sports Australia and Play by the Rules offer resources on developing a MPP, including training. In addition to these resources, we encourage sporting organisations to discuss MPPs regularly with employees and the Board and provide training to all relevant individuals.
If you need assistance preparing a MPP or would like to know more about the obligations of sporting organisations, please contact us here.