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Australia creates National Sports Tribunal to handle doping and integrity breaches

Australia’s parliament passed legislation yesterday to set up a new sports integrity body, the National Sports Tribunal, on a two-year trial basis.

The organisation’s powers will include resolving doping allegations, mediating team selection disputes and dealing with integrity breaches. The tribunal will be separated into three divisions: an anti-doping division, a general division and an appeals division.

Sport minister Richard Colbeck said Australia’s current integrity mechanisms, under which sports generally investigate and handle disputes internally, lag behind countries like the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Japan: “They are inconsistent, subject to accusations of bias and lack powers to get to the truth.” He said the new tribunal would reduce the high costs and long resolution times that currently plague sports disputes.

The creation of the tribunal is based on a recommendation by the government-commissioned Wood Review of Australia’s Sports Integrity Arrangements. The review published its final report and recommendations in August last year.

An earlier draft bill to create a tribunal was proposed in February this year, but was dropped after resistance from the Australian Football League, Cricket Australia, and other major sporting bodies, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Question marks remain over whether the tribunal will be opt-in, meaning that sports bodies could still use their own integrity processes. This was what was proposed in the dropped February bill. Richard Ings, the former head of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency, said in February that the opt-in model would render any tribunal ineffective: “If it’s an opt-in model then it’s dead on arrival.”

Australian sport has suffered from several doping scandals in the past decade, most recently when swimmer Shayna Hack was sent home from the Fina Swimming World Championships in July after testing positive for the banned substance Ligandrol. She faces a four-year ban but maintains her innocence, claiming a legal supplement may have been tainted.

In February 2013, Australian Football League club Essendon and National Rugby League club Cronulla were embroiled in a doping scandal related to supplements, which led to a year-long investigation by the Australian Crime Commission. The commission said professional sport in Australia was “highly vulnerable to organised crime infiltration.”