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Resolving disputes and grievances in sport

Women writing on a clipboard and speaking to a young girl in a hockey uniform.

There are many types of disputes and grievances which can arise in a sporting context including governance related matters, conflicts of interest, grievances under the organisations' Member Protection policy, competition, selection or non-selection issues and by-law breaches for off-field conduct.

For instance, where a participant breaks a rule of the sport, they may find themselves disqualified, suspended or deregistered from the sport activities. In many sport settings, off-field disciplinary issues may also lead a player into conflict with a member and/or the sporting association itself. 

Who handles disputes and grievances within a sporting organisation?

In NSW, sporting organisations are typically incorporated as an association under the NSW Association Incorporation Act (2009) or as a company limited by guarantee under Corporations Act (2001).

In the context of this advice an association means a State Sporting Organisation (SSO) and its affiliates being a Regional Sporting Association (RSA), or community sport club.

An incorporated association as outlined in their Constitution will be administered and controlled by elected/and, or appointed office bearers and members who can be a Director of a Board or Executive or Committee of Management.

They have specific legal obligations as office bearers and members and are often given titles including: director, committee member, sports administrator, president, chairperson, treasurer, secretary, public officer or member protection information officer. 

An important responsibility of an association is to have in place a legal framework to handle internal disputes between members (in their capacity as members), as well as disputes between members and the association.

What should I do if I have a dispute or grievance?

The process for handling any type of dispute or grievance is usually outlined in the association's constitution, rules and/or Member Protection Policy.

Typically, the first step is to try to resolve a dispute or grievance directly with the parties involved.

Sporting associations also enforce their own rules through bodies called tribunals, or judiciaries. A judiciary or tribunal is designed to resolve disputes and rule violations within a sporting code. Its main function is to decide on penalties for players who break the rules of the organisation.

If the dispute cannot be resolved within the legal framework of the association, you may wish to seek appropriate legal advice or use an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service.

For information on ADR services, contact:

Can the Office of Sport intervene in a dispute?

No. 

The Office of Sport does not have the legal jurisdictional authority to intervene in internal disputes between members and an association.
   
The Office of Sport role is to work closely with the sport sector overall to ensure they have appropriate legal framework’s in place to handle disputes between members and association.  

Specifically, the Office of Sport does not:

  • provide legal advice
  • act for parties to a dispute
  • intervene in breaches of the constitution and or rules
  • intervene in a tribunal or judiciary matter
  • intervene in issues concerning membership, the validity of meetings or the validity of elections
  • intervene in matters regarding the storage and/or transfer of documentation between elected or appointed office bearers of the association
  • investigate and/or intervene in matters covered under the under the NSW Association Incorporation Act (2009) or as a company limited by guarantee under Corporations Act (2001).  These matters should be referred to the appropriate regulator
  • investigate an alleged theft of association funds or other criminal matters - these are matters for NSW Police.

Where can I get legal advice?

You may get legal assistance from the following sources:

Further information and support 

Contact the parent body of the sport, such as the National Sporting Organisation or your State Sporting Organisation.

More information

Play by the Rules complaint resources offer practical advice on complaints in grassroots sport, including:

Other concerns and issues

In some instances, depending on the nature of the issue, it may be appropriate to take your matter to an appropriate authority. This could include:

Disclaimer
As with any resource, this does not replace obtaining legal advice on each sport specific requirements and it is recommended you do so. The information provided above is for your information only. The authors and the NSW Office of Sport accept no responsibility for the accuracy of the information or your reliance upon it.