Lawyers behind Safe Sport Code hope new initiative accepted by all

Their eyes lit up each time they spoke about their work in drafting the soon-to-be-announced Safe Sport Code.

David Dinesh Mathew and Sabrina Yap Jo-Ai are no elite athletes, but the legal eagles are passionate about ensuring every individual in Malaysia – regardless of age, gender or background – can play sports in a secure and protected environment.

“I generally enjoy sports and have friends who have represented the country,” said Yap, an associate with the legal firm Steven Thiru & Sudhar Partnership.

“It is quite satisfying working on the Safe Sport Code. It is a good step forward.”

Mathew, a partner of the same legal firm, and Yap were engaged pro bono earlier this year to assist the Youth and Sports Ministry in its quest to create a safe and healthy environment for athletes.

Yap (left) and Mathew drafted the Safe Sport Code.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu, in his time as Youth and Sports Minister, pushed for the Safe Sport Act to take effect.

It followed revelations of harassment and abuse among current and former national athletes. They included ex-national swimmer Cindy Ong, diver Datuk Pandelela Rinong Pamg, and ex-gymnast Sarina Sundara Rajah.

Sarina has gone on to create Safe Sport Malaysia and has been pushing for the government to get the Safe Sport Act tabled.

As acts cannot be tabled and passed overnight, Ahmad Faizal, contesting in the Tambun parliamentary seat in the upcoming general election, instructed his officers to also work on a Safe Sport Code.

The Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, passed in Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara this year, was initially proposed in 2011. Women’s groups nationwide lobbied for such legislation for the past three decades.

The code, expected to be ready before the year ends, would compel Malaysian sports associations to adhere to it and act as a ‘tribunal’. That is to ensure victims, and whistleblowers, are protected.

Sports associations in Malaysia are registered with the Sports Commissioner’s Office, an agency under the ministry. Most elite athletes train under the National Sports Council’s programmes. The council is also an agency under the ministry. This allows the ministry to impose the Safe Sport Code upon sports associations.

The Safe Sport Code, however, would have to be signed off by the new minister.

Mathew explained that the code is similar to that adopted by Singapore, with add-ons suited to Malaysia’s sporting landscape.

“The draft code we worked on can be divided into addressing its objective and the grievance process.

“The code is to protect sportsmen and sportswomen from intimidation or bullying. It also provides definitions of misconduct.

“As for the grievance process, it is a temporary relief measure built into it. It means that via the code, the victim can be immediately taken out of the system by either changing the training schedule or placed under a different coach, official or team, depending on the alleged perpetrator.”

Mathew and Yap had worked closely with officials from the ministry and representatives from the Attorney-General’s Chambers to draft the code.

“The code is being refined. The appeal procedure is being fine-tuned,” said Matthew.

“After a report is lodged, an investigation tribunal will probe the matter. Its findings will be handed to a committee that will deliberate and decide on the next course of action. While this goes on, there will be provisions to ensure the parties involved are protected.”

Yap highlighted that the composition of the committee is vital.

“It (the committee) cannot have someone from the sports organisation. Perhaps someone with judicial experience, like a senior lawyer, a former judge or industry experts,” added Yap.

The duo agreed that the Safe Sport Code is suitable for more than one ministry.

“If there are provisions that allow other ministries (ie. Education, Higher Education) to adopt a similar code, then they could easily use the Safe Sport Code as a guide. It would be great if the code trickles down to the grassroots and community levels,” Mathew added.

Main image by Safe Sport Malaysia.