Former Softball Australia employee says allegations of assault were ignored by the sport
Posted On May 10, 2022
A former employee of Softball Australia says the organisation ignored her allegation that she had been sexually assaulted and harassed by a senior administrator in the sport.
Sophie Moore alleges Softball Australia failed to make a report about her case when she reported it
She says there has been a systemic failure in the sport to handle her case
Softball Australia admits it failed to follow correct procedures
Sophie Moore has spent years trying to have her complaint heard after she alleged the administrator gave her an unwanted embrace and groped her in 2017.
But she said the incident itself has paled compared to the frustration she experienced over what she calls the “systemic failure” of Softball Australia to follow the organisation’s own Members Protection Policy (MPP) and act on her complaint.
“Multiple people in authority whose job it is to action and uphold policy in the organisation made active choices to not action that policy,” she said.
“And if they didn’t make that choice actively, then they don’t know their own policy, which is more concerning and alarming within sport.”
Ms Moore said her health had been affected by the experience.
“My physical and mental health’s shot — I have anxiety, insomnia,” she said.
Moore, who now works as the member protection information officer (MPIO) for Football Australia, said her case is an example of how smaller sports are ill-equipped to deal with complaints despite having policies to protect players and employees.
Moore was employed by Softball Australia in 2015 as the National Sporting Schools Manager.
She said she was harassed and groped by the senior administrator in January 2017 after being introduced to him by then-chief executive of Softball ACT Jon Wells during a junior carnival.
She said the alleged incident triggered a PTSD episode because it reminded her of a sexual assault she said she suffered in 2005.
Immediately after the incident she said she complained verbally to Wells and followed up a few days later.
“He said ‘OK, I’ll deal with it and thank you’,” Moore said.
“So, I just thought ‘this is a work problem. I’ve reported to my manager, I’ve done what I need to do’.”
Moore let the matter sit until 2018 when she saw the man who allegedly groped her had been appointed to the board of a state softball association.
By that time she had been made redundant during a Softball Australia reorganisation.
Nevertheless, she went back to Softball ACT, who by then had a new chief executive. They advised her to contact David Pryles, who was then the chief executive of Softball Australia.
She said Pryles told her she had an issue with the state softball association who had made the board appointment and advised her to contact the state president.
Pryles is now the chief executive of Hockey Australia. He told ABC Sport he could not recall the conversation with Ms Moore, but said he would have acted if there was a complaint in writing.
“From a governance perspective, under my leadership we were an industry leader in health and wellbeing,” Pryles said.
“If there was a complaint put in writing to Softball Australia we would have taken that very seriously.”
Moore said she then contacted the president of the state association, who asked her for a copy of her initial report to Softball ACT.
She said when she contacted the former chief executive Wells, he admitted he had not acted on her complaint.
“He apologised and said ‘I’m so sorry, Sophie, I never made a report. I thought I did, I haven’t’,” Moore said.
‘It felt heartbreaking’
Eventually, through an advocate, Moore approached the Softball Australia chief operating officer and MPIO Chet Gray, who was the chief executive at the time of the alleged incident.
Gray wrote an email to Moore’s advocate, which stated: “As far as I am aware this incident was not been (sic) reported to Softball Australia officially or non-officially.
“There is no report or record of an alleged incident of sexual misconduct arising from the 2017 Australia Day Carnival.”
Gray resigned from Softball Australia in April.
Moore said after two years of reporting her complaints up the chain of Softball Australia, the email was “severely frustrating”.
“It felt heartbreaking, like I was hitting my head against the wall,” she said.
She said the various administrators in the sport had failed to follow softball’s own member protection policy by asking her to contact other administrators.
“They made me contact people – that’s a breach of confidentiality – I’ve now exposed who I am,” she said.
Last year Moore made a statement with the Australian Federal Police in Canberra, who investigated her allegation, but ACT Policing told ABC Sport the case could not proceed due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
ABC Sport contacted both Jon Wells and Chet Gray.
“The facts are that I have given a report to the police,” Wells said.
“I’m not commenting any further.”
Gray said he had “no comment at this stage because of the investigation that’s taking place”.
Oversight ‘very unfortunate’, says Softball Australia
Moore said she was frustrated that because administrators in Softball Australia did not follow their own procedures and make a written report of her allegations, the police investigation had to be stopped.
“Because of that inaction it’s now impacted not just softball but the police investigation,” Moore said.
In a statement to ABC Sport, Softball Australia chief executive Rosie Williams said: “It is very unfortunate that those persons to whom reports were made did not act and follow procedure. Those persons are no longer involved in the sport.
“Such oversight will undoubtedly have caused distress to the complainant, and all member protection complaints should follow a clear and transparent process.
“It is critical the next person who has a member protection issue feels supported in coming forward.”
Williams said Gray was correct in saying he could not act without a written report, but said: “Obviously a report should have been initiated prior to the complainant contacting the MPIO.”
Asked why Moore was told to contact other administrators, which breached her confidentiality, Williams said: “Again, this is a failure by those involved at the time to follow correct procedure. This is not acceptable and does not reflect the current values of the organisation.”
Moore also complained to Sport Integrity Australia (SIA), the new body set up in 2020, which is responsible the overarching responsibility for ensuring justice in Australian sport.
In January this year, SIA deputy chief executive of sports engagement Emma Johnson wrote to Moore saying the body could not investigate the case.
Johnson wrote SIA had launched the National Integrity Framework (NIF) in March 2021 to allow sports to “adopt a national suite of integrity policies and access an independent complaint handling framework”.
Softball Australia adopted the NIF in February.
Johnson said because the incident occurred before the NIF was in place, SIA could not investigate the matter.
Moore said her case illustrates a wider problem in Australian sport – that athletes at all levels don’t know their rights, or that they’re entitled to make complaints to an independent officer within their sport.
“It’s a sport problem,” Moore said.
“Every athlete that I’ve spoken to, they don’t know the term ‘MPIO’ — they don’t know that they’re allowed to go to somebody who’s not a president.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to, in every sport, who is an athlete — and a lot of administrators — aren’t aware or informed of the members protection policy, which is membership rights, and the policies that they themselves are bound by.”
She said most sports have a member protection policy that is difficult read and understand.
“It’s a 66-page document and it’s not easy to consume,” she said.
Her comments are supported by experienced sport lawyer Paul Horvath.
“The depth of knowledge and understanding of the member protection process and in particular the complaints and complaints management process is inconsistent across various sports across the state bodies and at the national level,” Horvath told ABC Sport.
He said Ms Moore’s case was similar to others he had heard from clients in other sports.
“The problem in my experience is that some of the smaller sports don’t know how to handle these matters,” he said.
But he said member protection policies were essential to protects the rights of all athletes and administrators from grass roots to the elite level.
He said member protection information officers in all sports needed better education.
“Until you get a situation, it’s hard to understand the importance of that role,” he said.
In her statement, Williams said she took member protection seriously.
“We are working with Sport Integrity Australia on an implementation and education plan for everyone in our softball community,” she said.