Discrimination in Sport

Participation in sport and recreation is sometimes marred by accidental or deliberate discrimination. So, what is descrimination and how can this happen?

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination happens when a person treats, or proposes to treat, another person less favourably because they possess a particular attribute which has been recognised in law. Examples of attributes which have been recognised in law include gender (being male or female), being pregnant, sexual orientation, physical size (i.e. too small or large), breastfeeding in public, having a disability and practising religion. Discrimination on the grounds that a person has a criminal record may not be unlawful if the crimes committed are relevant to the safety of other participants. However, there would be very many participants in sport who have a criminal record and past misdemeanors may have no relevance to their ability to become members of sporting clubs and participate in organised sport.

A person may also be discriminated against because they associate with someone who has the particular attribute. Discrimination may occur even if there was no intention to discriminate. It is not relevant whether the person who perpetrates the discrimination knows that their actions are discriminating.

Famous discrimination cases in sport

The following legal cases have created important precedence in sport:

Lawful discrimination

There are circumstances in which sport clubs or associations can lawfully discriminate. Viewers should check the anti-discrimination legislation in their own state. In Australia, the following are grounds for lawful discrimination:

A club may exclude applicants from membership of the club who are not members of the group of people for whom the club was established if the club operates wholly or mainly-
• to preserve a minority culture; or
• to prevent or reduce disadvantage suffered by people of that group.

If it is not practicable for males and females to enjoy a particular membership benefit at the same time, the club may lawfully discriminate on the basis of sex. For example, it is not practical for male and females to share personal hygiene facilities (showers, toilets, sauna, steam room, etc).

A club may exclude an applicant for membership if there is a reasonable risk of injury to the person or other persons.

It may not be unlawful for a club to discriminate on the basis of disability if:
• the person would require special services or facilities; and
• the supply of special services or facilities would impose unjustifiable hardship on the club.


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