On and off the field, complaints and grievances can happen in every club and in every type of sport. What is important is that complaints are taken seriously and acted on promptly.
In all cases, in the first instance a complaint should be lodged with your club and the club provided with the opportunity to look into the matter and resolve the complaint effectively at the club level.
Making a Complaint
For administrative or registration issues – contact the Club Secretary or Club Registrar.
For member protection concerns or Code of Conduct or Policy matters – contact the Club Member Protection Information Officer (MPIO).
If a complaint has been made at club level but has not been managed within a reasonable timeframe, contact your local association. For Member Protection matters ask to speak with the association MPIO.
To report concerns regarding child abuse or if a child is at serious risk of harm contact:
- NSW Child Protection Helpline – call 132 111
- NSW Police – call 000 (triple zero)
For further information regarding reporting a child at risk visit NSW Communities & Justice
Before lodging a complaint it is important to ensure that all of the details of the matter have been gathered and the complaint is made in writing, including the complainant’s name and contact details, to ensure that the club has the facts of the matter and are able to contact the complainant if further clarification is required.
For further information, contact your Club Secretary or Club MPIO or contact your local association and ask to speak to the Association MPIO.
Prior to making a complaint, it may also be beneficial to understand some of the common issues that can occur in sport.
Complaint Options to Consider
For a minor matter consider seeking clarification first as to whether it may have been a miscommunication or misunderstanding or whether the action is in accordance with a rule, Regulation or Policy. Consider whether you are basing your concerns on facts and evidence or hearsay, and weigh up the pros and cons of doing nothing or taking the matter further. Do you need to make a complaint or can it be resolved another way? Consider whether your concerns are genuine or could your concerns be considered vexatious, mischievous or defamatory.
If you are unsure of what to do and it is a minor matter, consider monitoring the situation to see if there is still a concern or evidence that what you are concerned about is actually occurring or as serious as first thought. Consider whether there is another way the issue can be resolved. If you weren’t present, are you certain that what you are being told is accurate. Be sure to base your concerns on facts and not hearsay by clarifying information with those that were present and with those who reported it to you.
Consider whether speaking to the person directly to clarify what happened and why. Sometimes speaking directly to the person responsible helps to clarify and resolve the matter. It may be that the person is following club policy. If you approach the person with the intent to clarify what happened or if they are made aware of your concerns, they may be able to provide a reasonable explanation for what occurred or see the error of their ways, and if it was an accident or misunderstanding they may offer an apology and do things differently in future. In many cases, it can be beneficial for the person to understand what you may have seen or been told and the concerns that you have, as this can enable them to identify any issues and take steps to rectify and prevent it occurring again.
Mediation is where a club official or another person arranges a meeting and mediates between to two parties involved. For example, if a parent is having a problem with a coach, club official or another parent, a meeting may be arranged between the two parties with a club official or an impartial person to mediate between those present. Where mediation occurs, both parties have to agree to participate in mediation or a meeting as a way to resolve the issue or complaint. Mediation enables the problem to be discussed and resolved between the parties in a polite and respectful manner in a managed setting. If mediation is not agreed by both parties or is unsuccessful, then alternative resolution processes are then offered or in some cases a complainant may determine that the issue is not as serious as first thought and withdraw their complaint.
A member can discuss their concerns with the club MPIO, Secretary, President or another official of the club. This may provide the club with an opportunity to monitor the situation themselves and take any steps they believe appropriate or to discuss various options for resolving the matter and/or request that a written complaint be lodged to provide an outline and the details and facts of the complaint. This may also provide an opportunity to clarify club policy or Rules and Regulations that may be applicable.
An official complaint should always be in writing and addressed to the Club Secretary. The person who lodges and signs a complaint must be able to be identified and should include their contact details and details of the complaint.
It is important to note that any person being complained about is entitled to be informed of the complaint and be given an opportunity to respond to any allegations or complaint about them.
Anonymous complaints are generally unable to be acted upon and are therefore more likely to be unresolved.
To report concerns regarding child abuse or if a child is at serious risk of harm in a sport or domestic setting contact:
- NSW Child Protection Helpline – call 132 111
- NSW Police – call 000 (triple zero)
Allowing Reasonable Time for Complaints
Most clubs are run by volunteer committee members who give up many hours of their own time to help run the club. As committee members usually also have their own full-time jobs and often only attend to club matters after work, it is important that when lodging a complaint with a club that a reasonable amount of time is allowed for the complaint to be received, reviewed, managed and responded to. If after a reasonable time you have not received an acknowledgement or response to your complaint, follow the club up with a phone call to the Secretary or MPIO or re-send your complaint by email to the club’s email address.
Clubs have a duty to respond to all complaints. Clubs should endeavour to act in the best interests of all parties involved and respond to a complaint as quickly, fairly and effectively as possible. If you are unsure of the complaint handling process at your club, contact the Club MPIO or Secretary for further information. Clubs requiring advice regarding complaint handling should contact their Association.
Managing Breaches of the Code of Conduct
Here are some examples of the options available to clubs and associations when responding to complaints about or breaches of the Code of Conduct:
- Speaking with the coach about their behaviour
- Monitoring the coach to observe the reported behaviour
- Mentoring the coach on how to improve his/her behaviour
- Mediation between the aggrieved parties
- Requiring the coach to complete Play By The Rules on-line training
- Requiring the coach to complete an accredited coaching course or other form of further education
- Issue of a written warning to the coach about their behaviour
- Taking disciplinary action
- Suspending the coach from his/her duties for a period of time
- Dismissing the coach;
- or a combination of the above
In resolving complaints, the most appropriate action is at the discretion of the club or relevant association or tribunal (if applicable).
The person making the complaint does not determine what (if any) action or sanction is applied by the club or association.
Where a coach or other official identifies that an error in their behaviour has occurred or where a misunderstanding may have occurred, it can be beneficial for the team official involved to acknowledge this and clarify the misunderstanding and/or offer an apology as this can often result in resolving the matter.
Complaint Handling Processes
When offering to help out at their child’s local club, volunteer parents who take up a position on a club committee don’t expect that they might be involved in handling complaints from other parents and members.
There are 8 key steps club committees should follow to create safe and fair clubs.
Specifically, when it comes to complaints consider:
- Contacting your Association to seek guidance and to understand the Association’s complaint handling process if the club does not have its own in place.
- Take an open, transparent and responsive approach – complaints are a positive opportunity for your club to learn, improve and assist members
- Be familiar with the existing policies and rules that may apply. This may differ from club to club but could include the reference to the Club Constitution, Rules and policies, and relevant Association policies, as well as the National Codes of Conduct and Ethics, Safeguarding policy, Bullying & Harassment policy and Anti-Discrimination policy.
- Train key people at your club in good complaint management, via the free Play by the Rules online course
- For difficult issues or further advice on complaint management, talk to your Association or Football NSW.
Play by the Rules provides a free information and free online training courses to help club volunteers and administrators in managing sport related complaints in line with the complaint handling 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
If clubs require assistance in the management of complaints, contact your local Association for assistance and consider completing the free Play By the Rules complaint handling courses below.
Complaint Handling Training
Play By The Rules offers free online courses for club committee members, MPIOs and officials. The course is free and takes approximately 45 minutes to complete.
Keeping Children Safe
Complaint on behalf of a child
If making a complaint on behalf of a child, depending on the child’s age (particularly if a teenager) and depending on the nature of the complaint, it may be beneficial to ask how the child feels about you making a complaint or what they would prefer to happen. It is also a good idea to clarify any details with the child and discuss any concerns they may have. This will also ensure that you have all of the facts before considering further steps. This is important particularly if you were not present and did not witness the occurrence yourself or if you are relying on hearsay or second hand information.
Complaint by a Child
Where a complaint is made directly by a child to a coach, manager or club official then the complaint should be reported to the club MPIO or a Club Committee member. A complaint by a child, whether verbal or in writing, should never be ignored or disregarded. Matters reported relating to a risk of serious harm to a child must be reported to the Association or Football NSW or to FACS or Police as a matter of urgency. Matters reported to Football NSW of a serious nature relating to a risk of serious harm to a child will be reported to NSW Police.
Reporting Child Abuse
Although club officials and others who work and volunteer in sport are not mandatory reporters, in the event that a child discloses an incident involving physical or sexual abuse it is important that this is reported immediately to your Club or Association MPIO, Football NSW or to the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.
If a child is at immediate risk of serious harm call NSW Police by dialing triple zero (000).
Matters reported to Football NSW of a serious nature relating to a risk of serious harm to a child will be reported to NSW Police.
Reports of child abuse or neglect or concerns for child welfare in the home or out-of-home care (OOHC) can also be reported to the NSW Family & Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline on phone 132 111 (24hr helpline) or visit the Family & Community Services website.