Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 it is against the law to treat, or propose to treat, someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic protected by law in sport. It is also against the law to sexually harass someone.
What does sport cover?
Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 sport covers playing, coaching, umpiring, refereeing and administering sporting activities.
‘Sporting activities’ under the Act includes a wide range of activities and is not limited to competitive field sports. It also includes activities that may be thought of as recreational rather than purely sporting, and can include games where physical athleticism is not a factor. For example, a sporting activity can include things like chess and debating.
How can discrimination in sport happen?
If behaviour is based on a personal characteristic protected by law, treating you unfavourably might include:
- refusing to allow you to play sport. For example, because you are HIV positive
- refusing to select you in a sporting team. For example, because of your race or religion
- excluding you from a sporting activity. For example, because you are gay.
Examples of discrimination in sport
Maxine contacts her local sports club to join the weekly basketball tournament and is put in touch with a team needing players. At her second game with the team, Maxine’s girlfriend comes along to cheer her on. Afterwards, the team captain tells Maxine that she doesn’t want a lesbian on the team as it might upset some of the other team members. Maxine may have been discriminated against on the basis of her sexual orientation.
Ashley volunteers as a coach for a junior girls soccer team. When the parents find out that Ashley is male they contact the club and insist he no longer coach the team, as they believe a male should not be coaching an all-girls junior team. The club president tells Ashley that while the club was sorry to lose him, it has no choice but to dismiss him as the coach. Ashley may have been discriminated against on the basis of his sex.
Sexual harassment in sport
Sexual harassment in sport is against the law when it occurs in relation to employment, the provision of goods and services and in clubs. It is important to note that clubs has a special definition under equal opportunity law, so it won’t apply to all sporting clubs.
Sexual harassment is also against the law under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984. For more information about the operation of the Sex Discrimination Act and how it might apply to a club or sporting organisation that provides goods and services, you should contact the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Are there any exceptions to the law?
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some exceptions, which mean that discrimination will not be against the law in particular circumstances.
Positive steps can also be taken to help disadvantaged groups using special measures, which is not discrimination under the law.
If an exception or special measure does not apply, in some circumstances an exemption from the Act may be sought from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
The Act also includes specific exceptions in relation to competitive sporting activities.
Under the Act, a ‘competitive sporting activity’ includes any exhibition or demonstration of a sport. This means that exceptions are not just limited to recognised sporting competitions. However, the definition of ‘competitive sporting activities’ under the exception provisions of the Act does not include administrative or supporting aspects of a sporting activity such as coaching, refereeing, umpiring or administration, or non-competitive sporting activities.
Under the Act, you can restrict participation of people with a particular personal characteristic in the following situations. This information is a guide only and is not a full list of exceptions. To avoid doubt about whether an exception might apply, please check the Act or seek further advice.
Activities for people who can effectively compete
Under the Act, participation in a competitive sporting activity can be restricted to those who can effectively compete. This exception allows a person to refuse or fail to select a person in a sporting team, or to exclude a person from participating in a sporting activity based on their merit.
For example, Sally has played with her local club team for three years. Each year, she has been selected to represent the club in the annual club championship competition. In her fourth year, the coach does not select Sally to play in the championship competition because she has a knee injury. While the coach's refusal to let Sally play is because of her disability, this refusal is not against the law because the coach can establish that Sally will not be able to effectively compete.
Make a complaint to the Commission
If you think you have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.
To make a complaint:
- contact us by phone, in person or email. We also have a free interpreter service
- submit your complaint online or download our complaint form (DOC, 230KB).
Find out more about making a complaint.