Equality in sport: your organisation needs more than a code of conduct to manage risks

The demographics of Australian community sport have changed dramatically over the past decade. According to the Australian Institute of Sport, Australia is now home to people from over 200 countries with 29.8 percent of the population born overseas. There are more than 200 languages and 50 indigenous languages spoken. Approximately 4.2 million Australians live with a disability, including 3.5 million who are hearingimpaired. Eleven per cent of the population identifies as having a diverse sexual orientation, sex, or gender identity.

The population is diverse, and so should be the membership and inclusivity of Australian sports organisations. This article provides a checklist of policies that will help your club actively promote diversity and equality in sport.

Diversity discrimination persists

Despite our diversity, a recent Australian study found that while some sports had specific strategies for attracting diverse participants, few had policies for managing diversity at the club level other than codes of conduct. Worse, a recent study of community sports clubs in Victoria found that racial vilification was a common occurrence among both players and spectators in junior sports clubs.

The Australian Football League (AFL) introduced racial vilification policies in 1995 which have succeeded in minimising racial slurs on the professional field, though there has been less success in managing racism from spectators. And until the Tokyo Paralympics highlighted the discrimination, Australian Paralympians received no bonuses for winning a medal, whereas their Olympic counterparts received up to $20,000 AUD each.

Clearly discrimination is evident in sport from the professional to the grassroots level.

A checklist of policies sports organisations should have

A policy is a formal statement that defines your priorities for goals, action, and strategies. It provides a guide to achieve an intended goal or target. Robust anti-discrimination policies are an important tool to diversify your membership and increase opportunity for people from all backgrounds.

Clearly stating, and acting upon, acceptable behaviour and conduct when it comes to inclusion will not only increase governance of diversity and minimise legal risk but, according to Sport Australia, can increase membership numbers, sponsorship opportunities, volunteers and public support.

Gender equality in sport policy

A 2020 study by Monash University and Victoria University found women and girls felt devalued within sports clubs through ongoing micro-practices including difficulties gaining access to quality facilities, inconvenient training times, less recognition on club’s social media and lower recognition of their achievements.

Your policy must address overarching concerns, but also smaller practices that contribute to women and girls being far less active in club sport than men and boys.

Transgender and gender diverse equality policy

The Australian Human Rights Commission alongside Sports Australia has developed guidelines, in line with for the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), for the inclusion of transgender and genderdiverse people in sport.

The guidelines iterate that many transgender and genderdiverse individuals are often excluded from participating in sport because their affirmed gender is not recognised within a sport’s organisations policies.

Having a publicly available policy that specifically promotes the inclusion of transgender and genderdiverse people will help those individuals in identifying your club as one they are welcome to join.

Taking active steps to educate players, coaches, and other stakeholders in your club of your policy and commitment to inclusion will further solidify these policies in the day-to-day running of your club.

Disability inclusion policy

Participation rates for people with a disability are significantly lower than those for the general population. A policy should articulate your organisation’s commitment to including people with a disability. It should include practical steps to promote disability inclusion in your sports club.

A joint study by The University of Technology Sydney and Bournemouth University found that the level of support needs was the most significant indicator of the likelihood of participation or non-participation. Identifying the level of support your club offers to people with a disability and effectively communicating this will create opportunities for disability inclusion at your club. Play by the Rules provides a free downloadable template.

Cultural diversity in sport policy

With nearly one-third of Australia’s population born overseas, its vital for sports club to have a culturally inclusive policy. It allows members from migrant and refugee backgrounds to settle more securely in Australia and establish new networks and friendships.

Having a practical policy will enable all members to feel respected and valued regardless of their background. The Centre for Multicultural Youth’s Game Plan Resource Kit helps clubs identify cultural diversity opportunities. Connecting with local migrant and refugee organisations in your area, acknowledging culturally diverse celebrations and the provision of second-hand uniforms and kits are some of the policy strategies your club should consider to improve diversity of club membership.

Member protection policy

A member protection policy should detail how your organisation will protect your members from discrimination, harassment, abuse and inappropriate behaviour. The NSW Office of Sport provides 8 key steps to create a safe and fair environment for club committees to follow. Play by the Rules provides a Member Protection Policy template for clubs to get started with.

Complaint process

A clearly communicated complaint process is key. Members must know how they can make a formal complaint, and club administrators must understand how to handle complaints within the guidelines of a formal process.

Documenting this information in a detailed policy will minimise potential legal action, such as occurred in July 2021 when the AFL had to step in after a local league’s poor handling of a racial abuse complaint that occurred during a local game.

Play by the Rules provides a Complaints Handling resources tool that includes an online course for your club administrators to undertake.

Development and legal review of club policy

Ensuring robust diversity and inclusion policies will increase your club’s governance and decrease legal risk. As lawyers we strongly recommend seeking legal advice to discuss the wording of policies and their implications.

But a robust policy framework is just the beginning. In the context of sports club management, we believe the right policies must be supported by ethical leadership and an organizational culture that reflects the values and the diversity Australians love to celebrate on and off the sporting field.

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