Is governance a smokescreen for “deliberate and sustained cheating” in Australian sport?
In the wake of allegations of yet another example of an Australian sporting club engaged in what the National Rugby League describes as “deliberate and sustained cheating”, the leaders of Australian sport will gather in Melbourne next week to discuss the global integrity crisis in sport.
A National Rugby League Integrity Unit investigation alleges the Parramatta Eels “operated a system designed to enable it to exceed the salary cap without detection” since 2013. According to the NRL, the practices amounted to $3 million of player payments over the salary cap in the past three years.
The Eels have the opportunity to respond to the findings of the investigation that will see them, if found guilty, lose 12 competition points and face a $1 million fine.
Salary cap cheating, dishonesty and governance failings will be just some of the topics on the agenda when the leaders of Australian sport gather in Melbourne on Monday.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame in conjunction with Victoria University will present the forum to tackle the issues with a panel of national and international experts – led by Australia’s most experienced sports administrator Kevan Gosper AO.
Gosper, a member of the 2015 FIFA Independent Reform Committee and the IAAF Ethics Commission, will be joined byJaimie Fuller, global chairman of SKINS International and crusader on issues of sports integrity, governance and ethics; Australian Sports Commission Chief Executive Officer Simon Hollingsworth; and investigative reporter and Walkley award winner Caro Meldrum-Hanna who lifted the lid on serious breaches of integrity and governance in the greyhound racing industry.
Integrity officials from the NRL, AFL, Cricket Australia, Racing Victoria and many Olympic sports will be in attendance.
The forum will bring together over 200 of Australia’s sports and community leaders including presidents, chairs, and CEOs along with integrity officers and members of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Victoria University’s Professor Hans Westerbeek, Dean of the College of Sport and Exercise Science, said, said one of the key issues to tackle in the debate around governance was the behaviour the NRL alleges has taken place at Parramatta.
“There is often a case in both Australian and world sport that ‘governance’ reform is executed and complied to, but what it often means is creating a smokescreen of compliance where behind it they still plot away to circumvent integrity…. all with the singular objective to win the competition,” Westerbeek said.
“It’s been reported that Parramatta has had 25 directors, six CEO’s and four head coaches in the past seven years and they’ve breached the salary cap in five of the past six years. Given the latest allegations, it’s fair to ask why they are still in the competition at all?”
“The Parramatta case extends beyond board to executive management and the disturbing part of it is, after being fined and punished, it seems they simply got together and asked themselves, how can we keep doing it without being found out, again, using governance reform compliance as a smokescreen rather than a genuine intent to improve.”
Westerbeek added that it was more than ironic that one comment at the end of a story on the issue was from an irate fan, who wagered on Parramatta to make the finals and win the competition.
“So a betting interest by a fan has now been violated because the very thing that the bet predicted, to win, was illegally pursued.”
“It’s a demonstration of how far across the line the commoditisation of sporting contests has gone.”
One of the questions to be asked at the forum is – can sports police themselves?
“The forum is designed to encourage a greater level of informed debate about integrity in sport issues, and encourage participants at all levels of sport to reflect on actions they can take to address integrity issues from either occurring in the first place, or re-occurring in the future,” Westerbeek added.