Gold for Australia – sports lawyer achieving Olympic feats
Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice
Senior Consultant at
Snedden Hall & Gallop
Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne
After a life-changing opportunity to work for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Catherine Ordway knew she had found her niche in sport law. She has since worked tirelessly to raise awareness and help create a fair and equal sporting industry internationally – for both men and women.
From reviewing sport disputes in tribunal hearings, lecturing at the Masters level at four Australian universities, travelling the world to present on governance and sports integrity, consulting sports organisations, and advocating for gender equality in a male dominated industry, Catherine has become an international leader in her field. She is also currently undertaking a PhD in governance and integrity while consulting to a number of sport association boards and ethics panels.
“My passion for sport came from the rush it gave me, the friendships I made, and the joy that comes from seeing people pushing themselves to be the best they could be. It was these feelings, combined with a childhood thrill I still have for murder mysteries and solving crimes, that gave me the desire to put my efforts into clean sport and anti-doping,” says Catherine.
Catherine started out working in criminal law and personal injuries, but had a yearning to do something more closely aligned with her passion. After learning about the possibilities presented ahead in putting on the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, she became determined to support the efforts of elite athletes and fuse her career path with the opportunity of a lifetime.
“The question that wracked my mind though, was how I was going to make that happen” she says. “Everyone I asked says that it was impossible to work in sports law. But with the overconfidence of youth, I declared that ‘if there was one job out there, I was going to find it’.”
Catherine discovered the Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association (ANZSLA) had recently been established, and were calling for first time presenters. Seeing it as a chance to impress potential employers, and drawing on insights from playing national level handball, she submitted a paper to the ANZSLA conference that posed the question ‘how are foreign athletes in national teams being funded by Australian tax payers?’
“I won the conference prize, and my paper caused a shakeup of the Australian Sports Commission funding conditions. A short time later, when the law firm assisting the Australian Olympic Committee was looking to open a Sydney office, and wanted a fourth year lawyer, the then ANZSLA President, Hayden Opie, recommended me. That kicked off an amazing adventure, which is still continuing!”
This opportunity allowed Catherine to experience the Olympic Games in a way that is only accessible to a few. During this time, she prosecuted more than one third of all global anti-doping cases.
“I had the most incredible experience for four and a half years. Advising the AOC on issues ranging from how to best protect the image of the ‘Boxing Kangaroo’, to drafting and ‘prosecuting’ breaches of anti-doping policies for all the Olympic sports, and negotiating uniform deals with Nike. This culminated in the best two weeks of my life, when I got paid to go to the citywide party for the Sydney Olympic Games.
“While I didn’t end up competing at the Games, I came as close as you can get to being an Olympian without having to sweat. I was given the uniform, attended all the pre and post game events with the team, supported sponsor functions and cheering at as many sports events as possible, including the swimming, athletics, water polo, and of course handball.”
Since the Sydney Olympics, Catherine has worked with a vast array of major sporting events and associations. She has taken every opportunity that aligned her career with her passion: living in Norway for four years working with the Norwegian Olympic Committee, leading the Doping Control program for the Asian Games in Qatar, being consulted on numerous major sporting events including preparations for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, London 2012, and Vancouver Winter 2010 Olympic Games, as well as assisting in drafting the Olympic bids for Budapest 2024, Krakow 2022, Istanbul 2020, and Rio 2016.
While her career has been what many young lawyers dream of achieving, Catherine has witnessed a troubling bedrock of gender inequality for athletes throughout every level of sport leadership.
Frustrated by the International Olympic Committee’s failure to achieve its 20 percent target for women on national Olympic boards, and the glacial pace in increasing board diversity in Australian sporting associations, Catherine co-founded Women on Boards (WOB) with Ruth Medd. From 80 attendees attending the inaugural mentoring dinner in 2001, WOB now has over 22,000 subscribers from all sectors and industries. Led by Ruth and Executive Director, Claire Braund, WOB has recently expanded into the UK and is growing in influence through connections across 85 countries.
Today Catherine continues to act as a spokesperson and advocate for gender equality in sport, and was recently recognised with a 2016 Edna Ryan Award for Sport for her efforts.
“The idea that it is hard to find women of ‘merit’ is insulting, one of my favourite anecdotes to demonstrate the fallacy of this argument is from the merger of Women’s Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricket Board to create Cricket Australia.”
“The men putting together the Cricket Australia board determined that there were no women of ‘merit’ available, despite the President of the women’s board at the time being someone we now call the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce. Then also a successful Queensland Barrister, who went on to represent us as the Governor General of Australia, Quentin wasn’t seen to be sufficiently ‘meritorious’ for Cricket Australia”
Apart from being fair and morally sound, not surprisingly, the research supports the view that greater diversity in leadership creates better outcomes for everyone. We now know that bringing together different people with diverse ideas, lifestyles, and perspectives leads to improved innovation and performance.”
Catherine is now exploring how gender equality could be a path to stronger integrity in sport by examining the Australian Sports Commission’s mandated 40 percent gender inclusion policy for National Sports Organisations in her PhD. She has written and presented widely on the topic and seeks to broaden the awareness of how the culture of sports organisations are influenced by the values held by people at every level.
Catherine’s academic work is now also leading her to a global stage of anticrime and corruption. In November this year Catherine will join the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Education for Justice (E4J) Expert Group aimed at corruption prevention education for primary, secondary, and university students.
“You never know when a chance meeting might lead to an opportunity for you, or one of your colleagues, to create magic together. Be curious, ask people about their passions, and see what you can do to help them to achieve their dreams.”