The Triathlon Australia (TA) Board of Directors is issuing this open letter to triathlon members and to the triathlon community in response to serious allegations raised publicly by a former elite triathlete (who is also a current member and accredited coach) as part of a concerted campaign to destabilise Triathlon Australia, initially via social media and, more recently, through direct correspondence to TA’s Board of Directors, to the Boards of Directors of our State and Territory Triathlon Associations (STTAs), to numerous TA and STTA staff members, to clubs, to Sport Integrity Australia, to Sport Australia, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and the Federal Minister for Sport.
Since this concerted campaign of destabilisation began, Triathlon Australia has repeatedly offered to meet with the former elite triathlete to provide an opportunity to discuss their concerns directly, but all of these offers have been rejected. In addition, we have respected the independent processes that have been undertaken as a result of these serious allegations, and we have undertaken our own internal reviews, choosing to remain respectfully silent whilst these processes were undertaken. We have complied in full with all requests for information and cooperation made by Sport Integrity Australia, Sport Australia and the AIS, and we have remained in close contact with the Federal Minister for Sport throughout the protracted campaign.
Triathlon brings together people with varying experiences, skills and opinions to form the dynamic community that we all enjoy. Triathlon Australia welcomes direct, respectful, honest and robust dialogue, however many of the public allegations and criticisms made are inaccurate, unfounded, inflammatory, damaging and of a bullying nature. They have impacted on the mental health and morale of our hard-working, dedicated staff and volunteers, and they have provided unnecessary distraction from the good and important work being done.
This cannot be allowed to continue and so, to uphold triathlon’s values, protect triathlon’s reputation and protect our staff and office bearers from this relentless campaign of harassment, we are now taking this opportunity to set the record straight on the serious allegations raised, and to advise that Triathlon Australia has formally written to Sport Integrity Australia and requested they undertake assessments into a number of issues under TA’s Member Protection Policy in relation the behaviour of the member including complaints received directly from members.
In relation to the specific allegations of bullying and harassment, governance failings, high performance failings and financial misappropriations, we provide the following update to the triathlon community to address any member concerns.
Response to allegations of bullying and harassment
Triathlon Australia takes all member protection matters extremely seriously. TA is well advanced in its adoption of the National Integrity Framework and works closely with Sport Integrity Australia to ensure the safety and wellbeing of athletes and members.
Triathlon Australia has committed to providing any relevant information to Sport Integrity Australia in relation to possible breaches of member protection policies.
Triathlon Australia takes all matters relating to the safety and wellbeing of our athletes and members extremely seriously. Triathlon Australia is well advanced in its adoption of the National Integrity Framework developed by Sport Integrity Australia and we will continue to work closely with Sport Integrity Australia to ensure that Triathlon Australia continues to be a leading sport in the country, in this important area.
We continue to encourage anyone who has a specific member protection concern to raise it through the appropriate channels which can be found on our website Member Protection (triathlon.org.au).
Abuse, harassment and bullying have no place in our sport. We urge all our members to continue to participate in our great sport in a spirit of mutual respect.
Allegations of inflated staff expenditure and misuse of AIS funding
Funding for Triathlon Australia's high performance program is subject to reviews, annual formal acquittal processes, independent audits by the AIS and is strictly used for agreed purposes, which include supporting athletes through coaching, travel, and a sustainably resourced high performance support network.
TA is proud of its athletes and programs, but we acknowledge some recent international results have not met expectations. We embrace regular reviews in the interests of continuous improvement. A comprehensive review of triathlon’s high performance program with the AIS has jointly commenced, and will continue through to the end of the year. Further information on the Refresh review will be shared through TA digital channels in due course.
The AIS funds Triathlon Australia to deliver high performance programs. Funds are invested to provide maximum benefit against the agreed projects and are diligently acquitted. Detailed proposals are presented to the AIS and, once approved, interim checkpoints and audits confirm compliance with government funding terms.
Some important facts that should be noted:
- High performance funding is linked to good governance and Sport Australia’s governance standards require that TA has sufficient reserves. TA has built reserves over the last 10 years and now meets those Sport Australia governance requirements.
- TA has not used high performance grant funding to build reserves but has accumulated these reserves through non-government grant funding sources and prudent financial management.
- High performance grant funding is strictly ring-fenced and applied only for the purposes for which it was granted.
- The AIS approves detailed high performance budgets and receives regular reporting on spending against grants provided. In addition, all grants are subject to an annual, formal acquittal process whereby TA acquits expenditure against each specific grant. The acquittal documents are independently audited by an auditor and approved by the AIS.
- Travel costs are a significant part of any high performance budget and the figures quoted of $1m relate to the pre-COVID-19 year of 2019-2020 where only activities from March onwards were affected. This therefore represents an appropriate spend for that period.
- The percentage of high performance government grant funding spent on high performance salaries has consistently remained at approximately 30-35% for the last 10 years.
- As government grant funding has increased, so too have employment related costs - a requirement of that grant funding. This has occurred for the following important reasons:
- Triathlon’s Paralympic program is new and significant, and since its launch the grant funding for the program has grown dramatically, in large part due to the incredible success of our athletes supported through the program.
- Over the last 10 years, costs for employees previously paid for directly by the AIS have been moved on to the financial accounts of TA (and other national sporting organisations) along with corresponding grant funding. This is effectively just a shift in who pays for the employment, not an increase.
Triathlon Australia is committed to ensuring best practice governance
Triathlon Australia is fully compliant with the Corporations Act and relevant accounting standards. TA’s governance structures are consistent with many national sporting organisations and its governance practices are reviewed by Sport Australia on an annual basis and have been recognised as exceeding the national standard among national sporting organisations.
The STTAs established TA in 1988 to manage and govern the sport nationally and, as the members of TA, retain responsibility for electing the TA board.
Triathlon has operated this federated model of governance for more than three decades, and this is a governance structure that is common to sporting organisations around the country. With the support of Sport Australia, TA and STTAs are currently undertaking a review of its operational structures to drive improvements in our model, but the federated governance model will remain.
Under this model, STTAs are the “members” of TA and represent the interests of triathlon clubs, who are the “members” of their respective STTAs (except for WA and ACT, where individual members, not clubs, vote). In turn, triathlon clubs across the country (excepting WA and ACT) represent the interests of individual members. This governance model ensures our individual members are appropriately represented in a manner consistent with many national sporting organisations.
More than 60 experienced and qualified directors across the STTA network are responsible for the organisation of the sport at a State and Territory level, and for ensuring that TA adheres to best practice governance requirements through appropriate constitutional changes and through the election of TA Directors.
Some important facts that should be noted:
- Any changes to the TA Constitution are prepared by qualified lawyers and approved by the STTAs, not TA staff or directors.
- At no stage have individual members elected the TA Board of Directors directly as this is a role performed by STTAs.
- The appointment of the CEO is the sole remit of the TA Board as is standard practice in all organisations across Australia (not just sports organisations).
- Triathlon Australia is subject to multiple compliance checks from government (through Sport Australia) and is fully compliant with the Corporations Act and relevant accounting standards.
- TA’s independent auditors and Finance, Audit and Financial Risk Committee have confirmed that TA delivers compliant financial reporting with a greater degree of disclosure than is required for an organisation of TA’s type and size.
Sport Australia reviews Triathlon Australia governance practices on an annual basis and has confirmed that TA exceeds the national average for national sporting organisations in all areas of governance. Internationally TA is one of only five national bodies to hold the highest ranking awarded by World Triathlon since it commenced its annual reporting system in 2019.
An extensive review of the allegations made has occurred, internally and by several external experts in their fields, and they have been found to be completely without merit. The allegations made demonstrate a lack of understanding of the principles of good governance and are offensive to the experienced individuals who serve on the boards of the nine State, Territory and National Boards of our sport on a completely voluntary (unpaid) basis.
Whilst we are extremely disappointed by this relentless, unfounded, concerted campaign of destabilisation, we are proud that our robust systems and processes, along with our qualified, passionate and dedicated people, continue to lead the way in best practice sports governance and administration.
Hundreds of thousands of participants across our sport have shown their resilience and innovation since we first hit the starting line in Australia more than 40 years ago. We are well positioned to deliver continued opportunities to enjoy triathlon for the next 40 years and beyond, not only through our robust governance and management structures, but by continually living our values of unity, accountability, courage, enjoyment and inclusivity.
We look forward to continuing to focus our strategic priorities on helping our sport and community rebound from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and look forward to seeing you on the start line as soon as possible.
Triathlon Australia Board of Directors
Michelle Cooper, President
Stuart Corbishley, Vice-President