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National Forum on Pregnancy and Sport, Sydney.

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National Forum on Pregnancy and Sport, Sydney

Jackie Kelly, Minister for Sport and Tourism 1 August 2001

Thank you. And welcome to all our distinguished speakers and forum delegates — particularly Mark Peters, CEO of the Australian Sports Commission; Scott Derwin, President of Sport Industry Australia; Dr Marg Torode, Chair of Sports Medicine Australia’s Medicine and Science for Women in Sport Committee; and Kathy Tessier, Executive Manager of the Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association.

I’d like to congratulate the Australian Sports Commission for their quick response and their work with Sport Industry Australia, Sports Medicine Australia, the Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association and other stakeholders in addressing the complex issue of pregnancy and sport.

Pregnancy and sport is also an issue I have a great personal interest in. Many of you will know that, with the backing of my doctor, I continued to play hockey while pregnant with my daughter Dominique. In fact, my personal views on this issue are in today’s Daily Telegraph.

As I have said, pregnancy and sport is a complex issue. It not only affects sport and the sports industry, but it also has implications for other areas of public and professional life.

Many strong opinions have been expressed in the media recently on the issue of pregnant players participating in sport. Today’s forum will provide the necessary expertise to inform that debate.

The Australian Sports Commission plays an important role in providing accurate and current information to guide sport in making sensible policy decisions. 

For example, in 1996, the Sports Commission released guidelines on Pregnancy, Sport and the Law to help individuals and organisations make informed decisions about pregnant athletes playing sport. 

The current guidelines state that “as the law in the area of sport and pregnancy becomes more defined, and advances in medicine continue, the operating environment for sports and sports participants will change”. 

On 15 June 2001, the operating environment really changed with pregnant players being banned from all levels of netball. The reason for the ban was fear of litigation once the risk had been brought to the attention of national sporting organisations.

We live in a time when litigation seems to be increasing. The American experience is often cited and dismissed as being an unreasonable comparison. But it might surprise you to know that on a per capita basis we are not all that far behind America in the number of lawsuits filed.

Clearly, the threat of litigation is placing increasing pressure on today’s sports administrators and their advisers.

But you don’t need to look overseas for examples:   South Sydney Rugby League vs National Rugby League relating to participation in the Australian NRL competition ●

Women's Hockey Australia vs a former contract employee claiming sponsorship commission following termination of employment ●

Victorian Football League vs a player relating to an HIV positive player participating  in a competition ●

Cathy Freeman v Melbourne International Track club regarding contract arrangements including sponsorship commission and use of images ●

various cases regarding Olympic selection issues, for example Kathy Watt, 470 Class yachtsmen... And so on. ●

And litigation is not just limited to sports law. Sports are becoming increasingly concerned about criminals who seek to use sport as an outlet or cover for their illegal activities, such as sexual abuse or child abuse.

There have also been cases of litigation over common assault when a player goes beyond acceptable levels of contact, even in a contact sport.

Harassment is another area of potential litigation. I have recently launched Harassment-free Sport Guidelines for the following groups:

sport and recreation organisations ● coaches ● sports administrators ● athletes ●

children ● officials ● sport and recreation providers for people with disabilities. ●

And later this month, I’ll be launching guidelines to address homophobia and sexuality discrimination in sport.

So the threat of litigation is very real indeed. This requires higher and higher levels of professionalism from our boards of directors and national sporting organisations. It also requires a more corporate approach to sports — in many cases the federated system has outgrown its usefulness.

As incorporated bodies under company law, sports now need to consider issues like:

director’s liability ● occupier’s liability ● public liability ●

contract law ● criminal law ● duty of care to players, officials and volunteers. ●

And the list goes on!

So today’s forum is very timely. Hearing about advances in both the legal and medical areas will help us to review — and perhaps alter — our practices and perceptions.

The recent media coverage of the issues surrounding pregnancy and sport has focused on the participation of elite athletes, but I’d like to make the point that the eventual outcome of the current debate potentially affects all female athletes of child-bearing age, from the club level upward.

Sports participation

Because the opportunity to address so many national sporting organisations at once is all too infrequent, I’d like to take this opportunity to say a few things about participation.

Many of you were at the home of high performance sport in Australia — the Australian Institute of Sport — in April when the Prime Minister and I launched the Government’s new ten-year plan for sport, Backing Australia’s Sporting Ability: A More Active Australia.

As we mentioned at the time, Backing Australia’s Sporting Ability is the most far-sighted sports policy ever produced by an Australian Government. It also commits the largest amount of money ever towards Australian sport.

The package of measures in Backing Australia’s Sporting Ability includes an extra $32 million for the more Active Australia initiative, including $4 million for the new Olympic Youth Program.

The extra funding brings the total resources provided for sports participation to $82 million over the four-year period beginning 2001-2002. This takes Government funding for sports participation to a record level.

But it’s not just about levels of funding — it’s what we do with that funding.

We want to see the Government, through Active Australia, becoming an active partner with sports and the corporate sector, delivering sustainable participation growth at the grassroots level.

The centrepiece of the policy is a new strategy to increase community participation in sport. We have set an ambitious target of increasing the number of Australians registered in grassroots sport by one million over the next four years.

This is where national sporting organisations have a vital role to play in driving participation at the local, club and school levels — the grassroots where so many Australians get a real, lifelong passion for sport.

When I sat down to consider where we should be taking sport over the next decade, a couple

of very obvious facts were staring me in the face.

Firstly, across the board, the participation rate of our kids in sport is falling. Sure, the Sydney Olympics and Paralympics raised awareness and excited some kids to take up sport but how are they going to do it? There were cases of kids being turned away on registration days because clubs didn’t have the administrative or management structures in place to cope with the numbers of kids who wanted to sign up, or they didn’t have enough coaches or umpires.

And this brings me to my second point — I couldn’t see that enough had been done to get new generations of volunteers properly engaged.

Traditionally, the mums and dads have had a huge influence on whether teams exist or not. Under the pressure of their own kids, mums and dads organised more and more players into teams so their kids could get a game.

And the organiser just seemed to fall into the role of coach. They just did it — perhaps not as well as we’d like, but they did it anyway.

And there’s the fundamental need — sport needs coaches and organisers.

These days, fear of litigation, lack of knowledge about what to do, or what to teach, or how to properly execute your duty of care in such situations is an effective deterrent for many potential volunteers. We don’t have the stay-at-home mums on tap like we used to. But we do have a growing population of retirees who would love to give something back to sport if they knew how in this litigious environment of the 21 st century.

Some sports are fighting back. Some great technology is available at the moment that can get the right sort of information to where it’s needed — into homes. I know the AFL has done a lot of work with its AusKick program and it has developed a CD-ROM on coaching various skills. I’ve asked the forum organisers to set up a demonstration if any of you are interested in seeing what’s currently being done.

It’s no longer good enough for national sporting organisations to claim their responsibility is only at the elite level. You are the custodians of your sport nationally.  That means you have ultimate responsibility for your sport all levels. 

While many of you have realised that the secret to success is an integrated approach with emphasis on the grassroots, as well as the high performance levels and clear pathways to move between levels, unfortunately many have not.

Our new sports policy is designed to help turn things around. The challenge for all national sporting organisations is to get on board with the More Active Australia initiative, in partnership with the Australian Sports Commission and your corporate sponsors.

I know that by working together, we can transform Australians’ love of sport into a more Active Australia — and hence, a more healthy Australia.

Pregnancy and sport

But back to the topic of today’s forum...

To sustain participation growth rates in sport, we need to encourage all players into sport — the very young, the veterans, the disabled, women — pregnant ones too! And mothers. Post-childbirth is a crucial time when many women give up sport because they feel they don’t have enough time. Yet it is the one time in your life when you should return to physical activity with a vengeance to minimise the risks in later life of incontinence, osteoporosis, heart disease... and no doubt we’ll find out about some other potential problems today to worry about!

I’d like to stress that today’s gathering constitutes the first stage of a multiphase project.  Mark Peters and Scott Derwin will outline in more detail what’s in store.

From the Commission’s perspective I know the information presented and discussed here today will be used to review its guidelines on Pregnancy, Sport and the Law, and determine if further resources are needed on this issue.

No doubt you will all take away your own messages and feed that back to your sports.

In closing, I’d again like to say well done to the Australian Sports Commission, Sport Industry Australia, Sports Medicine Australia, the Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association and the other organisations which helped to get a forum of this size together so quickly.

I’d also like to congratulate all of you for your commitment by being here today to work through this very complex issue.

I’m pleased to officially open the forum and anticipate there’ll be a great deal of stimulating and informative discussion throughout the day.

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