Human rights in sport get major leg up

17 March 2016 By
Tim Fuller

As sports clubs sign on to the Pride in Sport Index, codes may have more powers to clamp down on discrimination, writes Tim Fuller.

In a pioneering development for human rights in sport, major Australian sporting codes including the AFL, NRL, FFA and ARU have signed up to the Pride in Sport Index (The Index).

The Index aims to provide a framework for sporting organisations to evaluate their LGBTIQ policies and procedures. This will include a process where the Index will evaluate and grade sporting organisations on the form and nature of support that they provide to their LGBTIQ members. Among other things, this will include the extent of community involvement and outreach, training and development for employees and sporting code policies and regulations.

Participation in sport provides numerous benefits to both society and the individual. In an increasingly diverse society, people should enjoy an environment where they are able to participate in sport free from discrimination and the fear of exclusion. Unfortunately, the environment in Australia has not always been conducive to an arena free from discriminatory practice.


Discrimination in the areas of race, gender, age and disability has occurred on a frequent basis in Australian sport. Anti-discrimination laws and their application to sport have played a significant part in ensuring that certain traditional practices in sport are on occasion deemed to be unlawful.

‘Sledging’ in sport is one such traditional practice and can be effective gamesmanship, but plenty of sledges have fallen into the potentially unlawful category.

Wallabies and Brumbies flanker David Pocock last year called out Waratahs player Jacques Potgieter for allegedly calling other Brumbies players “faggots”. Swimmer Steph Rice famously had a sponsorship deal with Jaguar Australia terminated after tweeting “suck on that faggots” following a Wallabies victory over South Africa.

Currently, the major sports use provisions within their sporting contracts to sanction participants in their respective codes for discriminatory conduct. Fines, suspensions and, less frequently, termination have previously been used to address this type of conduct.

The Index may result in significant changes to sporting contracts and the regulatory framework within which they operate to meet the anticipated outcomes. For example, Potgieter was required to undergo an educational course about why such language is unacceptable. Such courses are likely to become a mandatory requirement under contract for athletes, coaches, administrators and others.

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Discriminatory practice in sport is not a recent phenomenon. It was only after the Sydney Olympics that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) abandoned their testing procedure to confirm the sex of competitors in female-only events. The testing procedure evolved from a ‘nude parade’ through to chromosomal testing and analysis. In more recent times, transgendered athletes are allowed to compete in accordance with their reassigned gender after meeting certain criteria.

Sports professionals are acutely aware of the requirement to promote a safe environment for all participants. Use of correct playing equipment, safe venues and playing surfaces and effective rules are some of the fundamentals of sport today. The Index adds a further dimension to sporting participant welfare and is likely to have significant potential legal ramifications as the quest for fairness, equality and tolerance in sport increases in scope.

Tim Fuller is a sports lawyer at Mills Oakley Lawyers   

Human rights in sport get major leg up
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