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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
Practice of sports science in Australia
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
Heffernan, Sen Bill
Sterle, Sen Glenn
Di Natale, Sen Richard
Edwards, Sen Sean
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
(Senate-Wednesday, 12 June 2013)
Senator DI NATALE
CHAIR (Senator Heffernan)
Senator DI NATALE
Senator DI NATALE
Senator DI NATALE
Senator DI NATALE
Senator DI NATALE
Senator DI NATALE
Senator DI NATALE
Senator DI NATALE
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Content WindowRural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee - 12/06/2013 - Practice of sports science in Australia
MAZANOV, Dr Jason, Private capacity
THOMPSON, Professor Kevin, Director, University of Canberra National Institute of Sport Studies, University of Canberra
CHAIR: Welcome. Do you have anything to say about the capacity in which you appear today?
Prof. Thompson : I am here today just to give testimony from my own experience working as a sports scientist for 17 years in the UK. I have been involved in accreditation processes with the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences in the UK.
Dr Mazanov : I am a senior lecturer with the School of Business, UNSW Canberra, which is at the ADFA campus. I am here as a researcher. I do research on sports science. I am a psychologist by training. I am interested in the social science of drug use in sport, which has led to a much broader interest in the role of sports science.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Would either of you like to make an opening statement? We have received submission No. 1 from you, Dr Mazanov. Do you want to make any amendments or additions?
Dr Mazanov : Apart from a few egregious grammatical errors! I have a few comments about what we have heard so far, if that is acceptable.
CHAIR: You could probably make some sort of short opening statement. Professor, would you like to make an opening statement?
Prof. Thompson : Yes, please.
CHAIR: Away you go.
Prof. Thompson : My perspective is from working for 17 years as an applied sports scientist in elite sport. I was also senior manager and national director of science at the English Institute of Sport over a seven-year period and have chaired various sports science committees for the UK professional body for sport and exercise science, which is BASES, and led and supported the development of professional body accreditation in the UK. To date, I believe there are only about 20 sports scientists accredited with ESSA. I am strongly in favour of ensuring that sports science in Australia becomes accredited to a professional body like ESSA. I believe there are numerous benefits from that, such as working within a professional code of conduct, benefiting from formalised training and a career pathway and benefiting from a recognised qualification and status.
In the UK, sports science is now recognised by the Science Council as a bona fide science discipline, along with biomedical sciences, childhood psychology et cetera. That is because the accreditation process is seen to provide a high level of competency and practice. I believe that accreditation would give sports science in Australia continual professional development training and mentorship. It would guide universities in developing education pathways for students and preparing them for the job market. I think employers within sport in Australia would benefit from accreditation if they were involved in the process. My final point is that accreditation only really gained force within the UK when the major employers within sport in the UK asked for accreditation in people's resumes.
Dr Mazanov : The first thing I need to establish is that my role in this is that of a bystander. I am not a sports scientist; I am someone who researches in the area. As such, my role is to develop policy alternatives. I am interested in finding different ways to approach things. One of the core parts of this conversation has to be moving beyond drugs. This is an issue of sports science which is not just about the use of supplements or the use of particular kinds of drugs. If we want to talk about that, perhaps an inquiry into the role of antidoping and how that works might be appropriate.
Training, for example, can break people. A colleague of mine, a cyclist I know, was broken by his elite professional training. That is an impact which sports science was a part of. We also need to get beyond elite sport. Sport happens far more down at the bottom levels. We hear a lot about elite sport, but what about the caffeine abuse we see down at the netball courts? What about when we see 12-year-old children passing around a ventolin puffer in the belief it is going to enhance their performance. We see the myth of sports science being taken down to all levels of sport. So we need to get this right. We need to do more than just protect those people at the top of the game, who are vulnerable but still adults. We need to protect those at the bottom of the game, who are incredibly vulnerable, even to their parents.
We need to focus on the health and wellbeing of athletes first and foremost. But we also need to provide those who provide that advice—the sports scientists, the sports medicine professionals, the allied sports health professionals—the architecture to conduct themselves so they can protect those people. I have heard stories of sports trainers saying, 'That athlete is concussed and should not go out,' and the coach on the sideline abusing them and saying, 'I do not care; get them back out there.' This is the culture we need to try and break—to try and protect and preserve athlete health and wellbeing all the way down in Australian sport.
Senator HEFFERNAN: Earlier in the day, I was having a conversation with you and I have forgotten what I was going to ask you about. But what you were saying seemed pretty pertinent. Can you remind me what we were discussing?
Dr Mazanov : We were talking about the role of sponsorship in sport and how that might influence the level of integrity in sport. There is very little evidence that these sorts of scandals affect sponsorship. For example, with the famous scandals on the Tour de France, the only evidence we have that there has been any shift away in sponsorship is that two German public broadcasters withdrew their coverage of the tour. Equally, despite ongoing scandals of inordinate magnitude with the Olympics, the amount of money they come up with is increasing. Another example from Italy is the Calciopoli referee match-fixing scandal. No sponsor of the club Juventus, which was at the centre of the scandal, left them. All that happened was that they demanded a reduction in their sponsorship fee.
So the relationship between these sorts of scandals and sponsorship value is dubious at best. When we put up a proposal to the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Anti-Doping Research Program to look at the effect of doping scandals on sports consumption behaviour, the response we got was, 'We are not going to fund the research because there is no evidence that doping scandals diminish the value of sport.'
CHAIR: Does it surprise you that the first witnesses we had were not really familiar with the long-term impacts of some of these drugs on the person taking them—you know, when you turn 45 and you suddenly cannot get out of bed? As I understand it, there are that many new drugs coming on the market that no-one can keep up with what happened with those drugs back then, let alone the new ones.
Dr Mazanov : The production cycles that we are talking about are incredibly rapid, and it is unsurprising that people are unable to know what is going to happen in the long term. We are still working out what the long-term effects of using methylphenidate—or Ritalin—are on kids with attention deficit disorder. There are a group of drugs which are banned under the World Anti-Doping Code—such as EPO and anabolic steroids—which have been through the relevant testing to become a regulated substance in Australia and overseas. Arguably, because these substances are banned, athletes looking to get chemical enhancement from somewhere else have to turn to legitimate other drugs, which are those that are not on the banned list, and these tend to be experimental substances. So it is no surprise that they will turn to these alternatives, given that the safe, well-developed, rigorously tested alternatives are not available to them.
CHAIR: Potentially, in the future—like with cigarettes and other various things that become social habits—we might be subject to a class action against people that allowed them to use them.
Dr Mazanov : I think that may be a possibility, and I certainly hope that that comes to fruition, because it will resolve a lot of the ambiguity. One of the things that has emerged recently that I am concerned about is the proliferation of caffeine abuse amongst adolescents. We actually do not know what this level of sustained caffeine abuse will do to the developing body. I have heard some comments that it leads to toxicity, which affects the nervous system and the renal system, but, again, I am a psychologist rather than a medical practitioner; I am not entirely on top of these things, but these are the stories I am hearing. We are so concerned about anabolic steroids and AOD-96 whatever it was, we are forgetting about some of the core issues that are affecting a large volume of the population down the bottom. Caffeine and its use in our society is growing quite strongly. I have seen guys run onto an AFL field with six No-Doz tablets in one hand, washed down with a 500-millilitre can of Mother in the other. These guys are going on with an extraordinary amount of caffeine. This is happening in local competition—club-level competition—not at the elite level. That athlete is at risk of tachycardia, and there is one reported instance in the US of a motocross jumper dying of a heart attack while on their bike because they drank seven Red Bull in a row right before they jumped on their bike. Caffeine is a massive issue.
CHAIR: Professor, do you have anything you want to add?
Prof. Thompson : Just to go back a step: I listened to a practitioner within the Sky cycling team recently, and what was interesting was that Sky stipulated that the team had to be completely drug free and completely disassociated with anybody that had been implicated previously with drug abuse in Tour de France races. So the team itself internally purged anybody that had been associated with a team previously on the tour relating to any drug taking, whether they were really involved or not. The association was not what the sponsor wanted. I thought it was really interesting to hear that, right from the outset of that team being set up, that was a key part of it, because Sky's other goal that the team were interested in achieving was getting a million Britons on a bike. To do that, you have to be drug free and completely ethical, and there are obviously other goals such as to tour in five years et cetera.
CHAIR: Did the team come last?
Prof. Thompson : The Sky team won the tour within the second or third season.
Senator STERLE: Dr Mazanov, in your opening statement, I think you touched on something that we really have not paid any attention to. Chair, with your indulgence—I do not know what the question is yet—let me just put some cards on the table. I love the Australian football game; I think it is the best in the world and all that sort of stuff. I am not a supporter of the Western Australian teams, so they can all start on me again!
We had a number of very high-profile drug incidents in Western Australia in the early 2000s. That is no secret. And I am mindful that if people have drug issues we have to do everything we can to help them. But it is no secret that this was not just a one-off incident; it was talked about in Western Australia's sporting and football circles—that was always a conversation in any pub that you walked into. And yet it just continued on and on. When it all blew up, and there were arrests and all that sort of stuff, the sponsors did not run away. But what did happen—and I listened to the talkback radio and as a parent it was disgusting to hear—was the clubs on talkback radio coming back and saying, 'leave our players alone', and 'these players are fantastic and they got us a premiership'—the club doing what they could to try and avoid saying that they had a role to play. The sponsors did not budge. It was absolutely disgusting. What is the message that sends to kids? So I want to dig a bit further down. You mentioned some sponsors have shifted from other clubs but it is not just that—because everyone can throw rocks at the sporting codes. But what would you suggest if there was a club—such as the high-profile one in Western Australia—that did nothing? Give us a bit more. Dig a bit deeper—these sponsors have a role to play. Sponsors cannot just have their car sign or their takeaway food sign on the player's back and then bury their heads and say it is all good.
Dr Mazanov : One of the criticisms I have of this discussion is that it individualises the athlete or the individual athlete support person. I think that we need to look at punishing clubs, for example. We have talked about the salary cap breaches and the punishments that came about as a result of that. If you have a doping breach, for example, I don't see any problem with sending the whole Olympic team home—you watch how quickly the institution responds when you send the whole Olympic team home for one inadvertent breach.
In terms of what you are describing, Senator, I think the answer comes down to sports consumption behaviour. People in Australia—and I have said this in other fora—love their sport and they love the version of sport we currently have. They love to see athletes who can do amazing things. Those amazing things are contingent upon drug use. Athletes have to use certain cocktails of supplements, legal drugs and prescription drugs, as well illegal drugs, to actually give us the spectacle that we call for. The way that I think we can try and change this is to change the way that Australians consume sport. Sponsors will abandon unethical clubs if people do not want to watch them anymore. So for example, if we can get rid of a club from a league which does lots of naughty things, let's get rid of them. This is what we call the principal agent problem in economics: sometimes you have to just randomly punish one of your agents to demonstrate that you are serious about doing it. That is one way of approaching the issue from the bottom up. But in reality, Australians like to see athletes who are on substances to perform week in, week out. That is the way we structure sport at the moment. I look at the guys in the NRL and the AFL, and they are awesome athletes, but the punishment that they take week in, week out—I know my body certainly would not be able to withstand it; I probably would need to look at taking some supplements. The 12-year-old daughter of a colleague of mine at work has just been put on a course of vitamin B to try and improve her immunity. That is someone who has just entered the world of junior elite sport, and already she is on that track and looking at using supplementation to augment her immune system so that she can compete in an ongoing way.
Senator STERLE: Just to touch on what Senator Gallacher talked about earlier, it is a well-known fact that if workers go onto a mine and they test positive, they are gone. In my past life, I know there were not a lot of people saying: 'Oh that poor truckie. He should have known; he should not have had a spliff a couple of weeks before he went on the mine', or something like that. But it is all right for the elite sporting crowd to be having not just some recreational drugs but also actually illicit drugs—and everyone feels sorry for them.
Dr Mazanov : This touches on what I was saying before. We can talk about the role of drugs in sport, which I think is a different issue—and I certainly applaud both the NRL and the AFL for actually taking a step one way or the other. I think that the anti-doping code does not actually help. It does not provide us with the framework we need to appropriately manage the role of drugs in sport today. We either say, athletes need these drugs and they need a range of drugs—and we stop demonising them and calling them cheats and saying all these horrible things about them—and these are the substances athletes need to do their job; or we go the other way and we say, 'Really, we do not want drugs in sport at all'. And that means no painkilling injections on the sideline, it means no exotic drugs in your system to help you train longer and harder, and so on.
We either take drugs out or we find a way of managing their role within sport. But, again, that distracts from the essential question that we should be interested in here, which is: what is the role of sports science more broadly? You touched on the issue. You said 'ethics'. I still haven't heard anyone articulate what 'ethics' needs—what is right. We have heard platitudes and assurances: 'We will do what is right.' But what is that? No-one has actually articulated to my satisfaction what is the right set of behaviour around the practice of enhancing performance in sport? My point of view is that we should prioritise athlete health and wellbeing over performance at every turn, and that if someone sacrifices athlete health and wellbeing today or when they are 50 and their knees explode. I think that is where we should be setting our bar, rather than saying, 'Performance is the most important thing', because that delivers us the money, sponsorship and so on. Let's bring athlete health and welfare to be at least as important as performance, perhaps more so.
Senator STERLE: I saw on the news last night being reported from WA that we have the fun coppers out there going completely ape. They have killed the smoking lobby, and that is fine—I don't smoke but it is people's choice. They are picking on advertising signs around sporting grounds because Carlton Draught might sponsor it or something like that. But I think they have a role to play, too. I would be interested in your views. It is all very well attacking an alcohol outlet for sponsoring sport. And I don't think it is all right. It is a bad choice of words. People look to these health experts, but I do not hear them making a lot of noise when sporting teams are using illicit drugs. If they have, I will be the first to apologise. What is your view there?
Dr Mazanov : There is something called the deterrence hypothesis, which says that involvement in sport reduces the risk of drug use. The evidence that we have before us from some excellent work by a colleague of mine, Matthew Dunn, lead a project from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. In summary, what we know is that sport makes you more vulnerable to alcohol abuse, sport makes you less vulnerable to illicit drug use, and sport makes you more vulnerable to performance-enhancing drug use. Those are the bald facts of the way that sport works not only in Australia but all over the world. So when we talk about illicit drug use in sport we can actually say, 'Yes, it does have a protective effect,' but my concerns lie with the other two groups: the licit substances—alcohol, caffeine and so on, the abuse that you see there—and the fact that most people probably would not use any of these other performance-enhancing drugs without sport.
Senator STERLE: Just thinking on this one, Professor, and then going back to your past life, at the British Darts Championships now they would all be sitting around drinking orange juice and Pepsi! That would be an interesting concept. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Professor, do you have anything you want to add so far—you have been very quiet there?
Prof. Thompson : It is not my area of expertise but what I have done is worked both as a practitioner and as a manager of science and medical teams working with elite athletes. So I was very interested in Jason's point around the ethical side of it. For me, if you have people who are suitably trained, ethnically trained, aware of boundaries, aware that you need an evidence base for practice, can weigh up risks and benefits and then when a coach or an athlete requests an intervention, whether that be pharmacological or training change or whatever, that request can be suitably peer-reviewed. It is not necessarily one person; it is a team of individuals. That is a strength, then, that within that team you make a decision. I was very fortunate to be involved in British cycling up to the Beijing Olympics. We had a rider development team. There were 10 people on that panel. We looked at various interventions—as I say, risk-benefits, we used evidence based practice to make our decisions which were ethically sound. Throughout that whole process the athlete was communicated to about any risks, what the benefits could be. The benefits are often marginal—
CHAIR: Just for clarification, you were overseeing the training of the cyclists for Beijing and they were taking some sort of medication or chemical assistance and you are making sure that they did not fall off their bike, as it were, in the process?
Prof. Thompson : For example, we had 160 projects with nine months to go before Beijing—from aerodynamic alterations to a nutritionist, for example, debating whether fish oils would have benefit for recovery. We had strength and conditioning coaches wanting to put in more training loads at certain parts of the program. You have to look at all of these potential interventions—as I say, look at the risk and look at the benefit.
CHAIR: No chemical enhancements?
Prof. Thompson : No.
Senator STERLE: Maybe you could knock up a program us to get us through the embarrassment called question time.
CHAIR: You know what I mean.
Senator DI NATALE: No, I do not. The problem is it is very hard—
CHAIR: I mean substances that may be illegal.
Senator DI NATALE: Illegal drugs.
Senator EDWARDS: You touched on regulated supply. Last week in the mainstream morning media a doctor whose name escapes me advocated that rather than shutting the door the sporting codes should agree what is a useful and non-debilitating drug to use when an athlete is coming back from injury. They could get what is currently banned under a broad range of substances that are banned and regulate it, much the same as we have done with alcohol, tobacco and other substances perceived to be a threat to society. Where does regulated supply start and stop? Who is in charge? Exercise & Sports Science Australia will be appearing before us later. There is a lot of focus on them and a belief they will pick up a lot of the slack. Both of you are passionate about this issue, as I can tell from your submissions and your representations. How do we go down that path? Do you think we can credibly go down it and will the system allow for it, or are there not enough checks and balances? We will get on to the subject of the ombudsman in a minute.
Dr Mazanov : As noted in my submission, there is scope to regulate the role of supplements. We have had the question: are supplements chemicals? Frankly I have never seen a vitamin C tree. We still have to synthesise the vitamins to create the supplement we give people. We have exceptionalised sport in the way they can use certain substances. As a consequence of that, we need to provide athletes and their support personnel with some surety that the substances that they can use are uncontaminated, for example, by amphetamines or anabolic steroids and that they do deliver the purpose for which they have been designed. The AIS has done an excellent job in establishing the A, B, C, D list but it shows that surprisingly little research supports the use of a lot of supplements and substances. If we regulate the term and force the suppliers to say what is a sports supplement and to list its effects, they must have the evidence underpinning it to use the term 'sports supplement'. My submission is very clear that we are not talking about all supplements. The industry has a place in society more broadly, but in relation to sport we need to do something to help athletes and their support staff navigate an extremely tricky world. The fact that you need someone with a PhD in biochemistry to advise you on supplementation tells me that this is a complicated field and you need that level of education to understand it.
Prof. Thompson : I agree. There was a movement in the UK that supplement manufacturers had to sign up to a contract saying that their processes would not be contaminated and the constituents in each batch would be known and guaranteed, so the athlete would not surreptitiously take something and be unaware of what was in that batch.
Senator EDWARDS: What was the penalty if the company did not do so?
Prof. Thompson : If you wanted to be associated with the team then you had to provide the guarantee. So, from the point of view of the company, they would be able to advertise that they are endorsed, I guess, because the athletes were taking their product and had vouched for its efficacy and its safety and, obviously, that what was in it has been reported truthfully and is factually correct.
Senator EDWARDS: Supplements are a way of life. A major company, Suisse, uses elite sports stars to promote its products on mainstream media. It seems somewhat of a blurred line as to what is okay to take and what is not okay to take. I do not think an eight- or 10- or 12-year-old can draw the difference between the two. As you said, and I quite liked it, you have never seen a vitamin C tree yet. This is where attitudes and the culture that you talk of are formed.
Prof. Thompson : One thing that I think we need to really appreciate is the evidence base, and we need to talk about this a lot more in the media. We need experts coming forward to say, 'There is not the evidence base that supplements actually improve performance or that the performance improvements are worthwhile.' It is a very expensive way of living, spending money on supplements which have no evidence base and potentially might have risks as well. As I said earlier, a sports scientist should be advising an athlete about the evidence base and whether perhaps a change to training would provide better benefit than, for example, taking a supplement. There are many ways in which performance is enhanced and injuries are reduced in sport. Supplements are one part, but only one part.
Senator EDWARDS: Your contention, then, is that all those supplements freely available to the public on supermarket shelves, and there is an extensive range, are not proven? If I sit down and watch sport on a Saturday afternoon I see the advertisements through the breaks. If I take that supplement, I assume I am going to start looking like that athlete and running like that athlete in slow motion next to a beach or a river, as the scene goes, in a body-hugging shirt. So what we are actually saying is that there is something we are selling to people and we do not know whether it works or how it affects them, but that is okay. In sport, however, there are things that we know do certain things and are not okay to take—we are promoting it in one part of society and telling people not to do it in another part of society.
Dr Mazanov : It is an inherent contradiction we have in modern society that we—again I will use that sociological word—exceptionalise sport. Performance enhancement is everywhere in society. If you look at the definitions of performance enhancing technology, the tablet that I have before me is a memory aid, stores a lot of information and gives me access to a lot of information. So externally we are augmenting ourselves all the time. We have developed bionic ears and we have done amazing things with that in Australia. We are developing bionic eyes. The notion of humanity is changing. People are seeking to augment themselves in all sorts of ways now, and technology is enabling that. In contemporary society—for example, there is some famous work cited in Nature—a lot of academics are now using cognitive performance enhancing drugs to enhance their ability to write high-quality papers. Truck drivers, for example, routinely use stimulants to ensure that they get home alive. We use performance enhancing substances almost ubiquitously in our society now, yet we say to athletes, 'You are not allowed to do the same thing as everybody else.' So there is an inherent contradiction in the way that we ask athletes to behave compared to the way we ask the rest of society to behave.
ACTING CHAIR: Senator Edwards, Senator Di Natale is seeking the call.
Senator EDWARDS: Very quickly, and given, Professor Thompson, your experience in the world, where does Australia rate amongst the world in terms of compliance with the WADA stipulations? We are told that we are out there at the forefront of this on the world stage. Are we kidding ourselves?
Prof. Thompson : That is a very difficult question to answer. I could not really compare with other countries yet.
Senator EDWARDS: You have worked with British Cycling, though. You have worked in the UK.
Prof. Thompson : Yes, I have certainly worked extensively in the UK.
Senator EDWARDS: You would know what the US is up to.
Prof. Thompson : To a degree—yes. My experience is mainly in Olympic sports. I have worked with some professional sports. I would say that, with the exposure I have had to Olympic sport in Australia, I see very similar work practices and ethics to that which I saw and helped develop in the UK—very ethical practice. I cannot really go much beyond that.
Senator EDWARDS: Anecdotally for other sports—the football codes and things like that?
Prof. Thompson : I can only go through what I have seen in the media. I am not sure that is always entirely accurate.
Senator EDWARDS: Not always a good idea.
Senator DI NATALE: I want to go to the example of the UK equivalent of ESSA. In simple terms, could you tell me how that accreditation process works for sports scientists in the UK?
Prof. Thompson : There is a supervised experience team. That is usually undertaken by graduates, so they have their undergraduate degree. They often start this when they are undertaking a masters degree—that is, a postgraduate qualification. It involves 500 hours of supervised practice. ESSA have a very similar process. At the moment there are approximately 200 individuals undertaking supervised experience. It takes usually a couple of years to build up that amount of practice. There are approximately 100 sports scientists already accredited who act as mentors through that process on an annual basis. Having gained that accreditation, they then practice and every five years they reaccredit. There is one level beyond that which is for very experienced sports scientists who have worked for usually six to 10 years in the industry. There is the potential to take an additional level of accreditation.
Senator DI NATALE: What is that called?
Prof. Thompson : It is the high-performance sport accreditation. It is a rarefied qualification, if you like. It is for those people usually employed within the industry full time and it is a way for them to acknowledge their additional skills and practice. The practice is based very much on competencies, not only in technical areas but also in non-technical areas: ethical considerations, working within a team, being able to provide feedback et cetera.
Senator DI NATALE: Code of conduct?
Prof. Thompson : Yes, there is a code of conduct which is well established. It has been running for around 20-odd years, so the code of conduct is well-established.
Senator DI NATALE: Regarding compliance with the code of conduct, what happens in breaches of the code?
Prof. Thompson : You could potentially be deregistered. You can have your accreditation taken away and you can also have your membership and registration with the association taken away.
Senator DI NATALE: Just to be clear about this: is there independent registration with another body and then accreditation through the equivalent of ESSA?
Prof. Thompson : You can be a member of BASIS but not necessarily accredited. BASIS do offer the accreditation part of this as well.
Senator DI NATALE: But there is not a professional registration body like AHPRA here, which registers doctors, nurses and other health professionals? You do not have to go through that hurdle?
Prof. Thompson : No. In the psychology discipline, you do—
Senator DI NATALE: Sure, because that is consistent with the discipline itself.
Prof. Thompson : That is right, but it is not currently under the Health Professions Council. It has just been given chartered scientists status.
Senator DI NATALE: I imagine the code of conduct enshrines health and player welfare as central parts of the work that needs to be done?
Prof. Thompson : Yes, absolutely. There are guidelines about ethical practice and the way you conduct yourselves, what is considered to be professional practice.
Senator DI NATALE: How many accredited members are there?
Prof. Thompson : Approximately 350.
Senator DI NATALE: And you have a couple more hundred in training?
Prof. Thompson : Yes.
Senator DI NATALE: Of that 350, there are 100 or so mentors?
Prof. Thompson : Yes.
Senator DI NATALE: We obviously have the equivalent here in Australia, but I was surprised to read that there are only a handful of people who are accredited. One of the concerns that came up was that perhaps the barriers are too high. Is it simply the case that there is just not as much value in being a member of the association here as there is in the UK?
Prof. Thompson : It is interesting because, from what I understand from ESSA, their association has grown markedly since 2000, from a few hundred up to 3,700 now. That is primarily because of the ability to register and become accredited as an exercise physiologist, and you can be registered with Medicare. It has created the profession, if you like. The value of accreditation is only there if it allows you to further your career and is recognised.
Senator DI NATALE: With the exercise physiology component, because that is something I was not aware of, and I was not sure why there were so many exercise physiologist, and then the sports science component was much smaller, is that because there is a Medicare item number that exercise physiologists can use?
Prof. Thompson : Yes, I believe so, but I am new to the Australian system.
Senator DI NATALE: There is obviously some financial incentive to become a member.
Prof. Thompson : Absolutely. You can practice in that field. My point is that we had a similar issue in the UK with sports science and not necessarily people seeking the accreditation that was available. The big difference came when the major employers such as the English Institute of Sport stipulated it within personal descriptions. That has made a big difference.
Senator DI NATALE: Why did they do that? We have this recent scandal, if you like, that has prompted all of this, but what was the trigger in the UK?
Prof. Thompson : I think it was simply people who had been involved in BASIS for some time had careers in what was a growing institute. The English Institute of Sport came about in 2001, and a number of us were in at the very start. I was one of the first few employees. We were banging the drum, I think, within the organisation quite early on. We had the discussion internally as to the benefits of accreditation. We wanted people to come to the organisation with a quality assured qualification, we wanted a very strong network of practitioners and we wanted practitioners who would be informing and mentoring each other. We saw that professional accreditation would be the best way forward for that, and we wanted to standardise practice across sports science. It is a global market now and that is the important thing. We were looking for people not only in Olympic sport but in professional sport to come across into Olympic sport and vice versa, and from around the world to come in. We wanted a qualification that we knew demonstrated a high level of professional practice and competency.
Senator DI NATALE: How did you deal with the challenge between the very broad category of sports science versus discipline-specific? How was that managed?
Prof. Thompson : That is a really good question. Initially we started off by being very discipline-specific in our accreditation. What we worked towards—and this is up to about 2011 when I came to Australia—was a more broad based competency. A lot of sports science is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary in nature, therefore, the accreditation process reflects that now in the UK. For example, I mentioned the high-performance sport accreditation. When you look at that and the competencies, it is assuming that you have technical knowledge, which might be in physiology, or in psychology, or in biomechanics, but what we were looking for was something beyond that, such as the ability to work with other practitioners in different disciplines to come to a reasoned evidence based decision at the end of the day and to worth ethically. It was more about that type of practice and those sorts of skills that we were looking to develop.
Senator DI NATALE: So, it is a more generalist recognition of skills, would that be appropriate? Then the individual specialty disciplines are recognised in other ways?
Prof. Thompson : What we would say is that you would be high-performance sport accredited but you were able to include physiologist or psychologist. It gave recognition of the fact that you are a specialist in a particular area but that you have the higher level skills.
Senator DI NATALE: They were referred to as what?
Prof. Thompson : They would be high-performance sport accredited and then, with a hyphen, physiologist or depending on the specialty.
Senator DI NATALE: I imagine you think it is a good model for Australia to follow?
Prof. Thompson : I believe so. I have seen a system develop in the UK from 2000 to where we are now. I have seen practitioners grow up, generally in the Olympics sports setting, but they have now devolved into the professional codes—football, cricket and rugby. So we now have practitioners who believe in accreditation, a career pathway and recognition, based in both the professional and the Olympics sports setting, which I think is a very strong basis.
Senator DI NATALE: How did you deal with the issue of people who had a lifetime of skills and experience in this area? What did you do about that? Was there a grandfathering process?
Prof. Thompson : Absolutely, yes. We have a grandparenting scheme. One reason I came to work in Canberra was the proximity to the AIS. Some of the sports scientists at the AIS are the best in the world. Clearly, if you want to put in an accreditation scheme, they would be grandparented through. So I think you have to work with industry, you have to acknowledge who is already out there and that they are already very good practitioners. It is just that they are not accredited.
ACTING CHAIR: Thank you.