They are already calling it “Katia’s law”.
The death last month of the Australian-Russian figure skater Katia Alexandrovskaya will leave a legacy for generations to come.
Heeding the call for all sports to do more to safeguard athletes in the wake of the global gymnastics inquiry, Australia’s three peak sporting bodies, including the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) have announced plans to introduce historic new reforms to help safeguard competitors.
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The AOC, Commonwealth Games Australia and Paralympics Australia have announced the creation of a working party to develop a framework to independently investigate reports of abuse, intimidation and other safeguarding issues in Australian sport.
AOC Chief Executive Officer Matt Carroll says the reforms will eliminate concerns that matters are not being dealt with properly by sports having to investigate their own complaints.
“There’s no place for abuse in our sports, but the missing link has been the lack of access to an independent framework,” Carroll said.
“We have started a process to develop a model that will remedy that. There’s a lot of detail to discuss.”
The move, which in conjunction with Sport Integrity Australia and the National Sports Tribunal, will see sports stop dealing with issues in house and instead see the formation of an “independent” avenue for complaints involving athletes.
The AOC, Commonwealth Games Australia and Paralympics Australia who represent 53 sports, have already started the process to form the “independent assessment of complaints, independent investigations and independent hearings”.
The announcement comes in the wake of The Australian’s and The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs’ investigation into Alexandrovskaya’s final years, which exposed missed concussions, an alcohol dependency, homelessness and financial hardship.
She was found dead earlier this year on a Moscow pavement outside the sixth-floor apartment she shared with her mother.
The newspaper investigation revealed Katia had recently been given an epilepsy diagnosis and told she could never skate again.
Alexandrovskaya moved to Australia at the age of 16 as part of a “transfer of allegiance” system under which foreign athletes are recruited to move countries to improve medal chances; in Katia’s case to partner Australia’s first Indigenous winter Olympian, Harley Windsor.
The move to reform the complaint system also follows the recent allegations of abuse from Australian gymnasts.
Alexandrovskaya’s longtime friend Belinda Noonan wept upon hearing the formation of the “working party”.
“For all the athletes who have not had a voice beyond their national sporting organisation, I am thrilled to hear complaints from athletes and coaches will be heard independently,” Noonan said.
“For me in my heart I will call this Katia’s law. From the day I met Katia I continually reinforced that in Australia she had a voice and her opinions mattered.”
While all sports receiving federal government funding are currently required to have a Member Protection Policy and Child Safeguarding Policy, there has until now been no external, independent process for lodging or investigating complaints.
CGA Chief Executive Officer Craig Phillips and Paralympics Australia CEO Lynne Anderson also said an independent framework is an important step in the member protection process.
Greg Merriman, who represented Australia in ice dancing at the 2014 Winter Olympics, spoke out about the mistreatment of Alexandrovskaya when it came to officials “overlooking” her alcohol abuse.
“At the end of the day, it is how the sport is policed, and that is you are policed by your peers,” Merriman said.
“You are policing your peers … in some cases people you have known your entire life, it’s extremely difficult to hold them to account when you are possibly taking their livelihood away from them.”
Dr Ruth Anderson, the former Head of Psychology Services for the Australian Olympic Team, said emotional abuse can be incredibly harmful to athletes.
“Abuse is abuse, whether it’s emotional or physical so people will react to emotional abuse in the way they would to any form of abuse and particularly if you’re young and you don‘t feel like you can speak out or have a voice then it’s potentially going to have a greater impact over time,” Dr Anderson said.
The creation of the integrity unit follows news the Australian Human Rights Commission will recommend that its findings from the current inquiry into gymnastics be adopted in all sports.
Figure skating’s world governing body also announced it will consider raising the age of Olympic figure skaters from 15 to 17 following Alexandrovskaya’s death.