ABC article on new National Sports Tribunal, featuring Mat Jessep


Game Legal Principal, Mat Jessep, was recently interviewed by ABC News Reporter, Jack Snape, in relation to next month's launch of the new Australian National Sports Tribunal.


Read the story featuring a quote from Mat here: https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-23/national-sports-tribunal-needs-backing/11986096?pfmredir=sm


The National SportsTribunal commences operations on on 19 March 2020 – the day that the National Sports Tribunal Act 2019 (the NST Act) automatically comes into force – and will operate for an initial "pilot" period of two years.


Here's the full transcript of Mat's interview with the ABC:


What do you think the NST will be best for, and what do you think will be its flaws?

Though dealing with disputes after the fact, I see the key benefit of having the NST as the overall promotion and strengthening of integrity in Australian sport; putting in place one of the major recommendations of the 'Wood Review'.  


I see other benefits as including:


  • the standardisation of a national process and procedures to resolve sports disputes across various sports where the parties elect so, as opposed to often different rules across different sports;

  • the provision of lawyers and legal advice to athletes and support persons on a pro-bono basis, improving the imbalance of power in any dispute; and 

  • the establishment of an independent avenue for appeals, where there hasn't been such a pathway locally and nationally in Australian sport before. 


Overall, I hope to see an improvement to the broader perception of the work of the small number of lawyers in Australia who dedicate their practice to sports law and are experts in the field of resolving sports disputes, as well as the enhancement of the profession of sports law as a distinct and highly specialised area of legal practice.


Until we see the relevant procedural and practice rules put in place in the National Sports Tribunal Rule 2020, many questions remain, including as to how the privilege against self-incrimination will operate for individuals appearing before the NST, and if the NST may be challenged on the basis that it is exercising a judicial power of the Commonwealth, understanding of course that the legislative process stressed that "the Tribunal will not be a court and it will exercise private arbitral authority, rather than judicial or merits review functions".



Do you think it will be used extensively? Why/why not?

The major sports, those forming the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, or COMPPS, consisting of the Australian Football League (AFL), Rugby Australia (RA), Cricket Australia (CA), Football Federation Australia (FFA), National Rugby League (NRL), Netball Australia (NA) and Tennis Australia (TA) will likely be low-level users of the NST, so long as they maintain an ASADA-approved anti-doping policy.


I say this as the major sports have established integrity measures, including rules, codes, processes, investigators, tribunals, and resources, they may only access the NST where internal resources are not adequate.


For smaller sports electing to opt-in, the NST introduces a low-cost option to outsource the expertise of a disciplinary tribunal. I think there will likely be a take-up, or the opting-in, by many of the smaller sports.



I have an example of where two members of a minor sport in Australia are out of pocket tens of thousands of dollars after successfully challenging a decision by their national sporting body to cancel their membership in the courts. (The sport is delaying in paying costs, possibly because it doesn’t have the funds.) Why might the NST be a good arena to resolve this kind of dispute, and why is it important for these kinds of matters to be prescribed in the National Sports Tribunal Rule 2020?

In this example, the members would be able to make a claim for costs through the courts. 


But, playing along - if the General Division provides, and if the parties to that sport's participation agreement so agree, I would encourage stakeholders in sports with fewer resources to consider making use of the NST's flexibility to assist with the resolution of all disputes within the ambit of the various agreements in place between the various stakeholders, including sponsorship agreements and media rights (if any). 


Though these general matters, such as your example, may not be core to the purposes of strengthening integrity, I take a wide approach  here if only for the benefit of allowing sports with fewer resources to get on with the job of running that sport for the benefit of all members from grassroots to representative and to professional athlete, along with fans (as well as the broader community), also allowing a sport to focus on safeguarding integrity.



Any other related comments?

The NST will provide athletes, sporting organisations, and ASADA with a national forum to assist in the resolution of certain disputes in what will hopefully be a prompt, independent, cost-effective, and transparent fashion. Sports sell integrity, so as a neat by-product, fans and other stakeholders such as sponsors and broadcasters will benefit from this back-end component of a stronger sports integrity framework.


Obviously the NST won't stop sportspeople and support persons from doing the wrong thing and making mistakes when it comes to breaches of sporting codes and rules, and it won't stop sports from engaging in omissions and lapses of good governance and integrity either, or from making arbitrary decisions. What I hope to see in the medium-long term is fewer matters reaching the NST as a result of better conduct and decision making by athletes and sports organisations flowing from better integrity measures and education put in place at the front-end, all being the benefit from lessons brought to light in the two year pilot of the NST.


I view athlete conduct and behaviour, the commercialisation of a sport, and the integrity of a professional game as being linked in a virtuous circle – each element needs and supports each other for a sport and its stakeholders to flourish. Better athlete conduct and behaviour supports a sport's integrity, which leads to better commercial outcomes. In turn, better commercial outcomes lead to better player behaviour and investments into supporting integrity measures.


For more information on Game Legal's Sports Law & Integrity services, click here.


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