Complaints and complaints handling

Complaints generally arise when something is not as it should be or a level of compliance has not been met.

A complaint can be an opportunity for clubs to identify:

  • Unacceptable behaviour
  • Breaches of the Codes of Conduct or Member Protection Framework
  • Safety concerns
  • Where a policy, guideline, communication or reminder to members may be necessary.

Ideally, in all cases, attempt should be made to resolve complaints at the level they occur, especially if the complaint is less serious. More serious, or unresolved complaints may require a more formal process at the Member Zone level, in accordance with the relevant Member Zones’s complaint handling process. Ensure that you have checked the facts before considering what options or steps might be appropriate.

Before lodging a complaint it is important to clearly identify

  • What happened
  • Where it happened
  • When it happened
  • Who was involved
  • Who witnessed it

Prior to making a complaint, it may also be beneficial to understand some of the common issues that can arise in sport. If unsure what to do, speak with your club Secretary or Member Protection Information Officer (MPIO) or consider the following:

Do nothing

For minor matters consider seeking clarification first as to whether it may have been a miscommunication or misunderstanding. Consider whether you are basing your concerns on facts or hearsay.  Weigh up the pros and cons of doing nothing or taking the matter further.  Do you need to make a complaint or can it be resolved another way?  Consider whether your concerns are genuine or could your concerns be considered vexatious, mischievous or defamatory.


If you are unsure of what to do and it is a minor matter, consider monitoring the situation to see if there is still a concern or whether there is another way the issue can be resolved. If you weren’t present, be sure to ask questions of your child or others present as to why or how it may have occurred and base your concerns on facts and not hearsay by clarifying information with those that were present or reported it to you.

Direct approach

Consider whether speaking to the person directly to clarify what actually happened and why, sometimes this can help resolve the matter. If you approach the person with the intent to clarify what happened or if they are made aware of your concerns, they may be able to provide a reasonable explanation for what occurred or see the error of their ways, and if it was an accident or misunderstanding they may offer an apology and do things differently in future.  In many cases, it can be beneficial for the person to understand what you may have seen or been told and the concerns that you have, as this can enable them to identify any issues and take steps to rectify and prevent it occurring again.

Seek mediation

Mediation is where a club official or another person arranges a meeting with the two parties involved with the intent to resolve the issue or complaint.  For example, if a parent is having a problem with a coach or another parent, a meeting may be arranged between the two parties with a club official or an impartial person to mediate between those present.

Mediation enables the problem to be discussed and resolved between the parties and the club, politely and respectfully, in a managed setting.  If mediation is not agreed by both parties or is unsuccessful, then alternative resolution processes are then often considered or in some cases a complainant may realise the issue is not as serious as first thought and withdraws their complaint.

Verbal complaint

A member can discuss their concerns with the club MPIO, Secretary, President or another official of the club.  This may provide the club with an opportunity to monitor the situation themselves and take any steps they believe appropriate or to discuss various options for resolving the matter and/or request that a written complaint be lodged to provide an outline and the details and facts of the complaint.

Official complaint

An official complaint should be in writing and addressed to the Club Secretary.  The person who lodges and signs a complaint must be able to be identified and should include their contact details and details of the complaint.

It is important to note that any person being complained about is entitled to be informed of the complaint and be given an opportunity to respond to any allegations or complaint about them.

Anonymous complaints are generally unable to be acted upon and are more likely to be unresolved.

Complaint handling

Clubs have a duty to respond to complaints.  Clubs should endeavour to act in the best interests of all parties involved and respond to a complaint as quickly, fairly and effectively as possible.  If you are unsure of the process for handling complaints at your club, contact the club MPIO or Secretary for further information.  Clubs requiring advice regarding complaint handling should contact their Member Zone or view the information provided below.

Breaches of the code of conduct

Here are some of the options available to clubs and Member Zones when responding to complaints about or breaches of the Code of Conduct:

  • Speaking with the person about their behaviour
  • Monitoring the person to observe the reported behaviour
  • Mentoring the person on how to improve his/her behaviour
  • Mediation between the aggrieved parties
  • Requiring the person to complete Play By The Rules on-line training
  • Requiring the person to complete an accredited coaching course or other form of further education
  • Issue of a written warning to the person about their behaviour
  • Taking disciplinary action
  • Suspending the person from their duties for a period of time
  • Dismissing the person;
  • or a combination of the above

Any action taken is at the discretion of the club or relevant Member Zone or tribunal (if applicable).

The person making the complaint DOES NOT determine how the complaint is managed or what (if any) action or sanction is applied by the club or Member Zone.

Where a coach or other team official identifies that an error in their behaviour has occurred or where a misunderstanding may have occurred, it can be beneficial for the team official to acknowledge this and offer a sincere apology as this can often result in clarifying and resolving the matter.

Complaint handling processes

When volunteering to help out at their child’s local club, parents often don’t expect that they might be involved in handling complaints from other parents and members.  To assist volunteers in understanding general complaint handling processes, Play by the Rules provides information and free online training courses to help increase the capacity and capability of club volunteers and administrators in managing sport related complaints.  Member Zones and clubs can develop their own complaint handling processes applicable to their organisation, ensuring the process includes the necessary complaint handling principles.

If unsure of the complaint handling process at your club, contact your Club Secretary or Member Protection Information Officer.

If clubs require assistance in the management of complaints, contact your Member Zone for further assistance or consider completing the free complaint handling on-line training course.

Keeping children safe

Complaint on behalf of a child

If making a complaint on behalf of a child, depending on the child’s age (particularly if a teenager) and depending on the nature of the complaint, it may be beneficial to ask how the child feels about you making a complaint or what they would prefer to happen.  It is also a good idea to clarify any details with the child and discuss any concerns they may have.  This will also ensure that you have all of the facts before considering further steps.  This is important particularly if you were not present and did not witness the occurrence yourself or if you are relying on hearsay or second hand information.

Complaint by a child

Where a complaint is made directly by a child to a coach, manager or club official then the complaint should be noted and reported to the club MPIO or an appropriate club official.  A complaint by a child, whether verbal or in writing, should never be ignored or disregarded.  Matters relating to a risk of serious harm to a child must be reported to at least one of the following:

Reporting child abuse

Although club officials and others who work and volunteer in sport are not mandatory reporters, in the event that a child discloses an incident involving physical or sexual abuse it is important that this is reported immediately to your Club or Member Zone MPIO, Northern NSW Football MPIO (02) 4941 7206, FACS Helpline on 132 111 or to the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.

If a child is at immediate risk of serious harm call NSW Police by dialling triple zero (000).

Reports of child abuse or neglect or concerns for child welfare can also be reported to the NSW Family & Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline on phone 132 111 (24hr helpline) or visit the Family & Community Services website.