"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport without discrimination of any kind…any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement." 
- Olympic Charter

This year has hosted the Winter Olympics in Turin, the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and the FIFA World Cup in Germany. It is an impressive year for sport. It is in such years, when the focus on sport is so great, that the scrutiny of it also intensifies. With the Equality Act 2006 receiving royal assent in February and an EC Directive providing for equal treatment in the access to and supply of goods and services to be implemented into UK legislation by December 2007, much of the scrutiny is not focused on the field, but instead behind the office doors of sports’ governing bodies.  Integrity, fairness and equality are key to the enjoyment of sport and increasingly, legislation is playing a role in promoting these principles.

The Equality Act 2006 provides the legal framework for a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights ("CEHR"). The CEHR will replace the Equal Opportunities and the Disability Rights Commissions in 2007 and the Commission for Racial Equality in 2009. Further, it outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion and belief.

The Equality Act has raised awareness of human rights, fairness and equality; all issues that are relevant in sport. Recent events on the pitch have highlighted the problem of discrimination in sport. In early April this year, the Italian football authorities fined Inter Milan 25,000 Euros as a result of racist taunts coming from the football club's fans and aimed at Messina's Mark Zoro, who has now been racially abused twice by Inter fans. The fine came less than a week after FIFA announced that it was to clamp down on discriminatory behaviour at football matches. A fine of 25,000 Euros will not mean much to a football club like Inter Milan but the message is clear, and with the ability to dock points from clubs and require matches to be played in empty stadiums, FIFA could choose to make an example of any club whose supporters act in a discriminatory manner. Whilst acknowledging that there are certain limitations in the CEHR's ability to investigate breaches of human rights, hopefully its duty to promote such rights will help to stamp out such inequality in sport.

Europe is also active in this arena. The European Council Directive 2004/113/EC provides for the equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services. Whilst, in the UK, the Sex Discrimination Act outlaws discrimination based on sex, its remit does not extend to private members' clubs, unlike other anti-discrimination legislation: the Race Relations Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. If a private sports club choses to limit an individual's membership based on his or her race, it would be an illegal act. Currently, if the same sports club chose to limit membership because of an individual's sex, no law is broken. The Directive is due to change this, however, single-sex private clubs will not necessarily be prohibited. The Directive expressly provides that differences in treatment may be accepted if there is a legitimate aim and lists the membership of single-sex clubs as falling within the scope of another human right, freedom of association. Upholding human rights is clearly a legitimate aim. The organisation of sporting activities is also excluded from the scope of the Directive, which provides the example of single-sex sports events as being legitimate.

What this Directive will outlaw, when implemented into UK legislation, is the different treatment of men and women in private sports clubs according to their gender. For example, in mixed-sex clubs, different categories of membership based on sex will be forbidden; restrictions to certain areas of the club, based on sex will be prohibited, as will the exclusion from sitting on a club's committee due to one's sex.

What exactly will be covered by the UK legislation implementing the Directive is not yet known. The Directive is a general one and any domestic legislation is likely to be more detailed in its scope. There have already been attempts to pass legislation in the UK to date similar to those provisions detailed in the Directive. The Sex Discrimination (Clubs and Other Private Associations) Bill 2004, for example, which provided for equal treatment for both members and guests of private clubs, fell due to lack of Parliamentary time. Whether the UK legislation will cover the equal treatment of guests is not certain, although it is likely if previous Bills are followed.

Equality and fairness is the foundation of such legislation and when it is implemented into the UK, sports bodies at all levels should be careful to comply. Such principles are vital to the enjoyment of sport and to expanding participation. The intense focus on sport this year is unlikely to fade, with the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and the possibility of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. As outlined in the Olympic Charter, sport is considered by many as a human right and with the judicial review of sports bodies' decisions becoming increasingly legitimate in Scotland, it is the opposition to such principles and such anti-discrimination legislation by sporting bodies that could be questioned by the Scottish courts.

 

 

 

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