‘I understand it’s a very inclusive group and that people who are on these committees are generally friends with someone … I think one of the key things … is that there needs to be a level of independence and clear decision making.’
Marcus came to the Royal Commission to speak on behalf of his daughter, Frankie, who was sexually abused by her umpire and sports coach when she was 11 years old. Marcus also spoke for his wife, Sabine, who wasn’t able to attend the private session.
In the early 2010s Sabine saw Frankie being massaged by her coach, George Matheson, during a game. Matheson continued to touch Frankie despite her obvious discomfort.
Frankie pushed Matheson away, trying not to draw attention, but Sabine saw this too and questioned her at the end of the game.
Frankie disclosed that during sports practice Matheson touched her breasts whenever he walked past her, and he massaged her when she was sitting on the sidelines. She told Sabine that she felt very uncomfortable when she was around Matheson. The day after hearing this, Sabine reported Matheson to the sports club coordinator and the police.
‘We tried to raise that within the [sporting area] and the [sports coordinator] was good friends with the man Frankie was uncomfortable with’, Marcus said. ‘He said, “He wouldn’t do that”, which is the standard response and we expected that … the man wasn’t prepared to take any action.’
Marcus and Sabine were upset that no one from Frankie’s sports club wanted to support the family. Sabine sought advice externally because everyone on the committee knew Matheson or was connected to him. They then reported Matheson to the women’s sports association and made a complaint to the overall sports committee of the state.
During this time, Frankie and her siblings were isolated and victimised at sports practice and during competitions. Matheson wasn’t removed from his position, which meant he could still be around Frankie.
Sabine didn’t want her children to stop playing, but neither did she want Matheson around Frankie. She moved Frankie and her siblings to another sporting club to escape the coach, but it transpired that Matheson umpired most of their games.
Once during a game Matheson had taken no action when Frankie was severely injured, and he intimidated her, which made her want to stop going to games. Frankie was also bullied and verbally abused by former team mates. Sabine approached the sports club coordinator again to complain about Matheson’s unfair behaviour, but nothing was done.
Shortly afterwards, Sabine and Frankie had a meeting with the CEO of the state sports association. They were told it was going to be very difficult to manage their complaint but were given assurances that something would be done. However, though they waited several months for a formal response from the association, nothing eventuated.
Sabine and Marcus then took their complaint to the national association and to the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), raising concerns that there were no processes in place to manage their complaint. They were disappointed that Frankie’s case wasn’t addressed by the ASC, but were pleased to see later the ASC had rectified flaws in their complaint management systems.
Throughout the whole process, Sabine felt isolated and bullied by different people associated with the sporting club. She was diagnosed with depression and hospitalised for extended periods of time. She has had suicidal thoughts and tried to take her own life.
‘It’s very sad to feel that we’ve taken a defeatist attitude, because how long do you let this emotionally [go on]?’ Marcus said. ‘It’s torture.’
Two years after their complaint, Sabine and Marcus took their children out of the sport. Sabine discovered that Matheson, now an integral part of the sports association, had deemed Frankie an unfit player, but Frankie hadn’t been told this.
At the time of his private session, Marcus was still waiting for the ASC to facilitate a discussion with the dispute resolution centre of their state.
‘It’s not about saying this gentleman has been guilty, it’s not about that. For us, it’s the process of the investigation and giving us an opportunity to state our case and get a result, which is what we’ve been after all along … That just hasn’t happened.’