We have compiled a number of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to assist you in understanding the concepts of harassment, discrimination and child protection in sport. The FAQs have been grouped into the following categories.

Discrimination

Child Protection

Discrimination 

Age

I am moving to another suburb, and I want to transfer from my present club to another club closer to my new address. I have been advised that I cannot transfer from one club to another until I am twenty one years old. Can they do this?

Rules that restrict people because of their age may be unlawful discrimination. You should discuss this with the club involved, and if the matter is not resolved you could lodge a complaint with an equal opportunity agency.

An international sporting event is to be held in Australia. In Australia, age discrimination is against the law. However, the sport's governing body rules that referees over 60 may not referee an event. Which rule has priority?

The law of the land in which the sporting event is being held - in this case Australia - has precedence over any rules made by international governing bodies. If any organisation refuses to employ qualified referees purely because of their age, they may be acting unlawfully.

I am a 61 year old veteran cyclist. All of the veterans’ competitions are open events, and I find myself regularly competing against 35 year olds. Can I insist upon handicap races?

Although it may seem unfair that older riders are unable to win races, they have not been precluded from racing because of their age. So it is unlikely that the situation would be unlawful under anti discrimination laws.

Rather than attempting to insist or demand that handicap races be included in the event, it may be appropriate to try and negotiate handicap races by getting the support of other veteran cyclists.

Handicap races do exist in other sporting events for older competitors (sometimes known as Masters competitions) such as rowing.

I am 21 years old, and although my weight is within the requirements, I am told that I cannot enter the pony competition at the Royal Show because of my age. Is this fair?

No. This may be discrimination on the ground of age, and a complaint can be lodged with an anti-discrimination agency against the authority imposing the age rule.

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Sex

If a girl is good enough, shouldn't she be allowed to play in a boys' team?

It depends. For example, the strength, stamina or physique of the competitor might be relevant to that kind of sport, so girls can be lawfully excluded.

If there are girls' teams available at that level of competition, it may not be reasonable to insist on her playing in a boys' team. However, where there are no girls' teams at the same level, and if the female player is limited to playing at a level below her expertise, she may be prevented from achieving her sporting best; for example, being selected for a national cricket squad. In such circumstances, the female player may be able to play with a male team, to enable her to achieve her full potential.

How come girls can be Scouts, but boys can't be Guides?

Anti-discrimination laws allow for a Club and/or Association to be single-sex.

There is, however, nothing to prevent a single-sex club changing its own rules to allow for both male and female members. In the case of the Scouts, the Association voluntarily decided to allow girls to join.

The Girls Guides Association, on the other hand, has lawfully chosen to remain a single-sex association.

Is it okay for my bowling club to charge male members a different amount than women?

No. It can be unlawful for a fee structure to be based solely on a person's sex.

It may, however, be lawful to have different fee structures that apply to different categories of membership.

I am female and I play mixed netball. The club says that women have to wear skirts, but it doesn't say that men have to wear shorts. Is this unfair discrimination?

Not necessarily. Legal decisions indicate that if the particular dress requirement is a 'conventional requirement,' then it may not be unlawful to require a particular standard of dress, so long as the standard is applied to both men and women.

These 'conventions' can change through negotiation, changing practices and popular demand.

Because I am a woman, my golf club will not allow me to pay full member's fees. I can only be an associate member, I am not allowed full access to club facilities and playing times. Is this acceptable?

A club that offers both male and female membership should make all membership categories available to both sexes.

My local gym offers cheaper rates during the day for women, but not for men. Can they get away with this?

No, not if the service, activities and equipment provided are the same as that provided to women. A man precluded from taking advantage of the cheaper rates may have a complaint of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex.

If a person thinks that they are being treated less favourably because of their sex, they may first wish to find a remedy through the club or its committee, to have the offending rules amended.

Alternatively, they may wish to lodge a complaint with an anti-discrimination agency whereupon the complaint will be assessed to see if the allegations fall within the legislation

My son is eight years old and wants to play in the girls' netball team. Should he be excluded from the team just because he is a boy?

No. Under both Victorian and federal anti-discrimination legislation participation in a competitive sporting activity cannot be restricted to people of one sex for children under the age of 12 years.  This means that any under 12’s competition must be open to children of any sex or gender identity.

For people over the age of 12 years, participation in a competitive sporting activity may be restricted to people of one sex or gender identity if a legislative exception applies.  For example, people of one sex or gender identity may be excluded from participating in a competitive sporting activity where the strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant to the specific activity.  Legal advice should be sought before relying on this or any other legislative exception.

I have noticed that at my child's school the boys are always given first choice of the rowing boats when there is a mixed rowing program. Is this discrimination?

If fees are the same for boys and girls, and girls also participate in competition, then giving the boys preference could be unlawful discrimination.

Concerns should first be discussed with the coaches and/or the school. If it still feels unfair to you, you may wish to lodge a complaint with an anti-discrimination agency.

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Sexual Harassment

An aerobics instructor from the local recreation centre touched my daughter inappropriately. What can I do?

Your daughter (or you on her behalf) could lodge a complaint of sexual harassment against the instructor with an equal opportunity agency. The complaint would be lodged under the area of Goods and Services. If the instructor is an employee of the recreation centre, a complaint may also be made against the centre.

In certain circumstances inappropriate touching could also amount to sexual assault, which is a very serious criminal offence and should be dealt with by the police.

My basketball coach tells everyone that I am in love with him. Then at training he touches my bottom and other places, and says it's okay. Is it okay?

No, it is not okay for your coach to touch you in an unwelcome manner.

If you feel offended, humiliated or intimidated as result of your coach's sexual behaviour towards you, you can lodge a complaint of sexual harassment with an anti-discrimination agency.

I complained to the Secretary of the basketball club because the trainer was sexually harassing me. Since then, I have not been chosen for a single game. What can I do?

Is there anyone else at the club you can approach about this matter such as the president or one of the other club officials? If you are unhappy about the outcome of your own efforts to resolve the problem, you can always lodge a complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation with an anti-discrimination agency.

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Disability

I am an epileptic. Should this affect my selection in the State calisthenics team?

If you are treated less favourably on the basis of being epileptic, this may constitute unlawful discrimination.

However, each case must be assessed on its own facts. For example, there may be medical reasons that affect the likelihood of selection. The degree, regularity and/or severity of epileptic episodes are also taken into consideration when assessing allegations of discrimination.

Further, it may not be unreasonable for the club or association to ask for a letter from your treating doctor and/or specialist, advising that your condition is under control.

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Sexuality

After playing football away, I was refused service at the home team bar because I am gay. Can they get away with this?

No. This incident may well be unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, in the area of Goods and Services.

You could lodge a complaint with an anti-discrimination agency.

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Race

I was born in Australia, and now that I'm old enough I want to join the local soccer club, where most of the players come from one particular ethnic group. I've tried out with them a couple of times, and although the selectors told me that I'm an excellent player, they keep rejecting me, because I "won't fit in". Can they do this?

It is possible that you are being discriminated against because of your race, which is unlawful.

However, anti-discrimination laws do allow for clubs to be exclusive in their membership, but only if the purpose of such exclusivity is to promote social interaction between the members of a particular racial or ethnic group.

If you were to lodge a complaint, alleging discrimination on the ground of race with an anti-discrimination agency, enquiries can be made to establish whether the soccer club does have a genuine exclusive membership, as allowed by the law.

I was suspended for two games when I hit another player who called me a "black bastard". Is this fair?

Being suspended for hitting another player is not likely to be unlawful. It is inappropriate to physically assault another player on or off the field.

As for the comments made to you, it is more appropriate to have the matter dealt with off-the-field, through the club's or associations disciplinary channels.

If this is not resolved you may be able to lodge a complaint with an equal opportunity agency.

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Child Protection

What if I'm concerned about a coach's behaviour but all the other parents think she is great?

Check your sporting organisation's Code of Conduct to find out what is acceptable behaviour. If you feel the coach is in breach of the Code of Conduct, this should be reported to the relevant contact person within your sport and be dealt with according to your sporting organisation's policies and procedures.

Our club has sacked a coach for inappropriate behaviour, and he has applied for work in another club. Can we say anything to this club?

Generally, people should seek legal advice before passing on information about matters such as this. If you are asked to provide a reference for this person, you could consider providing feedback about your concerns. You need to be aware that the coach may have access to this feedback. It needs to be honest and ethical, and you need to be able to substantiate your claims.

Should I drive a player home after a game or practice?

Ideally, all players/participants should have their own transportation to and from sporting events. In general you should only transport a child if you have approval by their parents or guardians. You should try to avoid being alone with the child.

What should I do if an athlete is injured and clothing must be removed to treat the injury?

Only people who are qualified in administering first aid or treating sports injuries should attempt to treat an injury. You should avoid treating injuries out of sight of others. Other things to consider include:

  • the comfort level and dignity of the player/participant should always be the priority

  • only uncover the injured area, or drape the player's/participant's private parts

  • always report injuries and treatment to parents, and document an incident fully.
Can I physically comfort a player or participant?

It is okay to comfort a child or young person who is upset or hurt. However, you should comfort a player/participant in public and not in an isolated setting.

What should I do if I discover that initiation rites/behaviours occurred during a team trip?

Do not take part in, encourage or tolerate behaviour that frightens, embarrasses, demoralises or negatively affects a player's self esteem and sense of safety. You should talk to all players and discuss the organisation's policy on bullying and harassment. You should discuss the implications, and follow policy guidelines.

What should I do if a parent, who is involved in a custody dispute over a child on your team, arrived to pick up his/her child without the other parent's permission?

You may need to ask your club or association to seek the advice of a lawyer when establishing guidelines regarding child-release policies and procedures. Check if your club has a 'release form' for parents, specifying who may pick up the child from games, practices, etc. If in doubt, contact the other parent before releasing the child. Try to keep the child protected from public tussles between parents over who should take the child home. Call the police to deal if matters escalate.

What should I do if a parent is repeatedly late to pick up a player after games and practices - often so late that everyone else has left the facility?

Late pick-up of athletes can create difficult situations for coaches and other people working with children. Some ideas include:

  • attempt to phone the parent/guardian

  • attempt to contact the alternative contact provided by the parent/guardian

  • wait at the facility with the child - ideally with other club members, team members or parents

  • when the parent/guardian arrives, address the issue of late pick-up immediately and directly.

Do not automatically drive the child home to their home, your home or any other location.

As a coach, can I become friends with parents and not be accused of playing favourites?

Stay professional and objective. If the child or young person is left off the team, or is on the field more than others you could be perceived as having a bias. Ways to avoid this are:

  • have two officials on selection panels

  • routinely rotate players on the field

  • make the game the important thing not the winning.

If it is clear that you are acting professionally at all times, it will be difficult to accuse you of favouritism.

Two junior team members ask to be dropped off in the city following an away game.  Is this okay?

No.  During all activities where you have the care and responsibility for children, you retain a duty of care for their safety and wellbeing until they are returned to their parents/guardians.

My child has been selected for a State team, and we have been told not to visit or contact them outside of the games. Is this right?

It is important to check the justification for this approach.

If you feel worried about the instructions, discuss this with the organising body. They may have a policy related to this practice that you could read which may reassure you.

If my child is leaving town to play, how can we check out the billeting family to make sure they are okay?

Your club should have a system in place to ensure that families chosen to be billets are thoroughly checked. This may include written guidelines for host families, and referee checks. If the team is going to NSW or Queensland, the billet family will have undergone a Working With Children Check.

Check with the club about their guidelines for this process. You can set up an emergency safety plan with your child so that if they feel unsafe they can contact you. Make sure the club is aware of any special requirements your child may have regarding medication or other health issues.

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