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12 July 2012
Providing a fair go for everyone
As each Olympic Games approaches, athlete appeals seem inevitable. This year we’ve seen appeals concerning rowing, athletics and equestrian, among others. What about club level sport? Does your club have an official appeals process? Does it need one?
All clubs should have a code of conduct as part of their constitution and, along with that, policies that explain the relevant disciplinary measures when a club member breaks the rules. Naturally, with these policies in place, there is also a need for a formalised appeals process.
Moreover, decisions made by coaches and club executives may impact negatively upon members, players and athletes and, in turn, those affected should have the right to appeal, particularly if they feel those making the decision were biased or they weren’t given a fair hearing.
What types of decisions can a club member appeal against?
Similar to those at the elite level, appeals generally arise when members are unhappy with athlete or player selections, but anyone who feels they have not received a fair hearing can appeal a decision. Here are a few examples:
- A coach appeals a decision to suspend her because the disciplinary committee includes someone with whom she has recently had a personal dispute.
- An appeal is launched by a player who was refused the right to defend his actions in person, despite the club’s constitution stating that all those facing disciplinary action be allowed to speak on their own behalf.
- A parent lodges an appeal against a committee decision to ban him from spectating on the grounds that he was not made aware of the initial complaint and denied the opportunity for mediation.
So what should a club consider when setting up appeal procedures?
Consult your sport’s governing body to determine the appeal procedures at that level so you can ensure your club’s processes comply. You can also contact your state or territory department of sport and recreation to see if they have or can recommend a template for you to work from. Here are a few thoughts and questions to get you started:
- Review your club’s constitution to ensure that the code of conduct and the relevant disciplinary measures are up-to-date and adequately cater for all areas of club activity (e.g. sponsorship, the driving of club vehicles etc.) and not just athlete, coach and spectator behaviour.
- Think about the structure of your appeals process and how it will work with the code of conduct, and provide a clear pathway from the initial complaint right through the appeals process to resolution.
- The tribunal for hearing appeals should be separate from the club’s committee and the group that makes decisions about disciplinary matters. It is very important to ensure the tribunal retains objectivity.
- How many people will make up the tribunal of appeal? Will they be members of the club or be external? It is advisable to have at least one external person with no connection to the club on the appeals committee.
What if the appeal fails? Can a club member appeal to another body?
Some sports’ state/territory or national governing bodies have processes in place to deal with appeals against club decisions. If this is the case, make sure your appeal process flows into theirs and that the pathway is clearly explained in your constitution or policy document.
Some states and territories also provide a confidential and impartial mediation and dispute resolution service for the sporting community (e.g. South Australian State Sport Dispute Centre).
Prevention is better than appeal
By far the better option for sporting clubs is prevention or the development of clear policy and procedures in readiness for a time when a decision may cause a player or member to seek appeal. As disagreements in player and team selection seem to cause the most problems, clubs should ensure they have selection policies in place which are fair, clear and communicated to all concerned.
Play by the Rules provides a range of relevant information about team selection and useful interactive scenarios on the issue. If your club is a member of the Australia & New Zealand Sports Law Association you will also have access to a range of relevant resources.
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