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As a club administrator it can be confusing to know what to do when problems arise. Most people know that a sports tribunal or hearing committee deals with on field complaints, but are less sure about what to do about off field behaviour (e.g., sexual harassment) or unfair administrative decisions (e.g. unfair rules).

Increasingly national and state sporting and recreation organisations are developing Member Protection and other policies and procedures to help guide their member clubs in dealing with these complaints.

It is important that clubs respond to all complaints, follow their organisation's policies and seek clarification from their state or national sporting or recreation organisation (or an external authority) if they are unsure about what to do.

If the state or national organisation manages a complaint the role of the club is to co-operate in any investigation, manage the situation until the outcome of the complaint is decided and implement any disciplinary action if required.

This section provides general information to assist club administrators understand:

Complaint handling principles

As a club administrator it’s important that your handling of complaints is fair, just and transparent (i.e. you follow clear processes and procedures).

You should apply the following principles:

  • Treat complaints seriously
  • Act promptly
  • Treat people fairly and listen to both sides of the story
  • Stay neutral
  • Keep parties to the complaint informed
  • Try to Maintain confidentiality if possible
  • Protect against victimisation
  • Keep accurate records
  • Make decisions based only on information gathered not personal views
  • Disciplinary action should be relative to the breach

Complaint options and steps

An organisation’s Member Protection Policy describes options and procedures for dealing with complaints.

Where possible, less serious complaints should be resolved informally at the level they occur (e.g. club). An example of a less serious complaint is a coach showing favouritism towards their own child in team selection. However, the circumstances of some complaints may require more formal processes, such as a player missing out on team selection because of race or religious beliefs. Referral to an external agency may be required for very serious issues like suspicion of harm against a child.

There are occasions when a club would benefit from the support of their regional or state sporting organisation to deal with a complaint, for example if a fair process can't be guaranteed because the person being complained about is also responsible for dealing with complaints at the club. Whether such support is available or necessary depends on your sport's constitution and policies.

Escalating a complaint

Escalating a complaint to an external agency is a good option when your organisation's policies or constitution directs that this type of complaint be dealt with at the state or national level, and:

  • There is a possible conflict of interest (or close relationship) between the people on the management committee and any of the parties to the complaint
  • It is beyond the skills of the committee and specific expertise or experience may be required to manage the complaint
  • The complaint has not been able to be resolved at the club level
  • The issue is more serious than first thought

Understand that the person complaining can contact an external authority (e.g. an anti-discrimination agency) at any stage in a complaint process.

Complaint handling scenario

Below you’ll find a complaint handling scenario. Matt Shirvington will guide you through the sequence of videos. You will see that the scenario is not handled in textbook fashion. This is done to highlight some of the potential pitfalls of the complaint process. It also talks about the role of the Member Protection Information Officer (MPIO). This scenario will be beneficial even if you do not have an MPIO. Download the Key Learning Points and add your own from the scenario. 

Video 1 - Matt Shirvington introduces the complaint handling scenario

Key learning points:
  • Minor complaints can be handled informally between the person making the complaint and the club officials.
  • More serious complaints may require a mediator to help find a resolution.
  • Clubs should have Member Protection Policies that set out how complaints should be handled.
  • If the club does not have an MPP then the state/territory sport policy will apply.
  • Clubs should also have a Member Protection Information Officer (MPIO) who will help manage complaints. If there is no MPIO then somebody should be identified to help manage complaints.
  • The role of the MPIO is to provide support for the person making the complaint, give information on the process and offer solutions.
  • The MPIO does not investigate the complaint.
  • Ideally, the MPIO is not an official of the club to avoid possible conflicts of interest.
Download Key Learning Points 


Video 2 - Initial managing of the complaint

Key Learning Points:
  • Conflicts of interest can be subtle. Be aware of all situations where there may be a conflict of interest. In this scenario Anthony declares that he is also a club sponsor. This could be a conflict of interest since a sponsor may not want any complaints around discrimination going public!
  • The role of the MPIO involves being neutral and not taking sides in the complaint process. Again, this can be easier said than done! Be aware of the language you use and making statements that can be interpreted as taking sides. In the scenario Anthony inadvertently appears to take sides by endorsing Catherine the coach.
  • It’s important to be supportive of a complainant who is likely to be nervous – it’s not easy to make a complaint!
  • Anthony explains the roles well enough but his language is not helpful, calling him ‘son’! It’s very important to show respect for a complainant.

Download Key Learning Points


Video 3 - Meeting with the parties


Key Learning Points: 
  • It’s important to treat all parties in a dispute with respect.
  • MPIOs should not get involved in the investigation process.
  • Listening, not talking, skills are the most important.
  • MPIOs should gather information in order to have enough information to offer a solution. Injecting personal opinions into a situation does not help and can lead to difficulties and misinterpretation.
  • Hearsay, personal viewpoints and heated discussions can easily cloud a situation and make it difficult to gather facts.
  • Calmness, neutrality and respect are key attributes when managing complaints.
Download Key Learning Points

Video 4 - Searching for a solution

Key Learning Points:
  • MPIOs should act as go-betweens, trying to see if a solution is possible without a proper investigation or inserting themselves as the problem solver.
  • In this conversation Anthony seems to prefer the issue going to mediation, without seeing if either Jeffrey or Catherine could find a solution. Possible solutions need to be explored and offered before turning to mediation.
  • It could be in this situation that Anthony has inflamed the situation and inadvertently caused the need for mediation. This can happen when an MPIO tries to be the problem solver.
  • Anthony suggests to Derrick that they should keep the issue ‘under wraps’ as it would not look good for the club. Is this a result of Anthony’s conflict of interest as a sponsor?
  • It could be that this issue contravenes the clubs Member Protection Policy or Code of Conduct. In which case Derrick would need to discuss the issue with officials from the club. This is something an MPIO could raise as part of their role.

Download Key Learning Points