Senate Report on the Practice of Sports Science in Australia

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Introduction

The Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs have published their report on the Practice of Sports Science in Australia (23 July 2013). A pdf copy of the Report is available here. The Committee Chair for this Report was Senator Bill Heffernan.

Background

The Committee advertised the inquiry on its website and invited submissions from interested parties by 31 May 2013. The Committee wrote directly to 27 stakeholders to invite submissions (21 replies were received, see Appendix 1 of the Report). A public hearing was held in Canberra on 12 June 2013 at which 21 people spoke with the Committee (Appendix 2 of the Report).

The Report has five Chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction (p. 1)
  • Chapter 2: Sports science in Australia: definitional and practical concerns (p. 13)
  • Chapter 3: The duty of care and ethical obligations of sports scientists (p. 25)
  • Chapter 4: Committee’s view (p. 35)
  • Chapter 9: Concluding remarks (p. 117)

Thereafter the Report presents additional comments from Senator Richard Di Natale. There are four chapters on the accreditation and regulation of sports scientists, and the corporate governance arrangements of sporting organisations. Senator Di Natale makes thirteen recommendations.

Recommendations

The Committee

The Report makes four recommendations:

Recommendation 1 : the federal government consider developing a statement of ethics that would apply to all Australian participants in sports.

Recommendation 2: tertiary institutions offering sports science courses include topics on ethics, which should refer to the duty of care of sports scientists to athletes and the importance of protecting athlete health and welfare.

Recommendation 3: sporting organisations and/or clubs provide all athletes entering professional and/or high-performance sports programs with specific training on sports ethics, integrity issues and their rights and responsibilities in relation to their long-term health and welfare.

Recommendation 4: detailed consideration by the Australian Government of introducing new regulations for sports scientists in Australia be delayed until such time as the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and/or the Australian Crime Commission have finalised their current investigations into the alleged use of drugs in Australian sport.

Senator Richard Di Natale

Page 37 of the Report notes:

the committee’s recommendation 4 in chapter 4 that introducing new regulations for sports scientists in Australia should be delayed until after the Australian Crime Commission’s and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s findings have been released. However, Senator Di Natale argues that there are a number of practical measures—that do not require new regulations—that must be considered now in order to protect athlete health and welfare.

Senator Di Natale makes thirteen recommendations, in addition to the three he accepted:

Recommendation 4: the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport (DRALGAS) conduct a feasibility study into Exercise & Sports Science Australia’s (ESSA) ability to administer a national system of sports science accreditation.

Recommendation 5: subject to the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport’s feasibility study and its consideration of the Australian Crime Commission’s and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s findings: Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) should be recognised and promoted as the single national accrediting body by all sporting employers in Australia; and where an individual is hired by an employer in a sports science role, they must be able to demonstrate that they hold current ESSA accreditation as a sports scientist. This must be demanded by employers to prevent rogue individuals from ‘code-hopping’.

Recommendation 6: accreditation as a sports scientist should be a condition of ongoing employment. If an individual’s accreditation is rescinded by the accrediting body following a breach of its code of conduct or an individual does not satisfy the re-accreditation requirements, the individual’s employment with the sporting organisation should be terminated. Employers should actively confirm the accreditation status and level of the personnel they employ in sports science roles on an annual basis, by formally requesting confirmation from the accrediting body. The accrediting body should ensure that it has the resources and processes in place to respond to these requests in a timely way.

Recommendation 7: following the establishment of a widespread, tiered system of accreditation for sports scientists in Australia, the government should consider including relevant sports science disciplines in the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme.

Recommendation 8: the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport consider forming and promoting an independent advisory group. The utility of an independent source of advice would be to provide up-to-date, independent information for athletes, parents, sporting organisations, peak bodies and coaching staff.

Recommendation 9: 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.

Recommendation 10: the Minister for Sport makes publicly available information about the role, composition and progress of the Australian Sports Integrity Network.

Recommendation 11: 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 as appropriate.

Recommendation 12: where supplements are used within national sporting organisations, those organisations consider encouraging only the use of supplements classified as Group A in the Australian Institute of Sport Sports Supplement Program.

Recommendation 13: national sporting organisations consider: implementing central registers of supplements in use by teams/clubs; and making this information publicly available.

Reactions

Exercise & Sports Science Australia

Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) responded to the Report in a press statement on 23 July. The statement includes:

We are (therefore) shocked and disappointed at the government’s failure to tackle the real issue in this report, choosing rather to wait for the release of the ASADA and ACC final reports before making any decisions.

and

We strongly believe that the outcome of these reports should have no impact on this decision. The current reality is that the vast majority of sports scientists working with professional sports codes have no independent body overseeing their qualifications and professional standards.  It doesn’t take further investigations to see that this anomaly will continue to put players’ lives at risk and further delay is not only irresponsible but negligent. Do we really need an even “darker day for Australian sport” before the government will act?

Sports Medicine Australia

In their press statement on 23 July, Sports Medicine Australia (SMA) observed:

Sports Medicine Australia, Australia’s peak sports body for sports medicine and science, believes the Government and the Opposition have missed a golden opportunity to reduce the likelihood of Australian athletes being subjected to unethical and dangerous supplementation practices in response to the Senate Inquiry into the practice of sport science in Australia.

and

SMA believes that mandating the ESSA code of practice as the industry standard for employment as a sport scientist would have provided a significantly higher level of accountability surrounding such rogue operators or at the very least alerted other members of the industry to exhibit caution in their employment of such individuals.

Senator Richard Di Natale

In a post on his website, Senator Di Natale wrote “I referred this issue to a senate inquiry because, as a doctor, I have real concerns for the health and well-being of Australian sportspeople and athletes”.

He added:

The clear consensus during the inquiry, from major sporting bodies and health care professionals, was that accreditation of sports scientists is essential. Sporting clubs need to be confident that the people they employ and trust to care for their athletes have the appropriate skills, qualifications and experience and only professional accreditation can provide that assurance.

Media Comment

On 24 July much of the online media comment about the Report drew on the ESSA and SMA responses. Most headlines refer to the anger prompted by the Report.

Photo Credit

Geen hulp voor Giusto Cerutti (National Archief, no known copyright restrictions)

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