A male-only tennis club based in Newcastle has been given 14 days to agree to change its rules to allow women to join, or face a ban from local council-owned courts.
The City of Newcastle has written to the Adamstown Rosebud Tennis Club, warning that if it does not amend its constitution “to admit female members who have the same status, rights and obligations as male members”, it will not renew its yearly agreement to use the local courts.
The council owns the courts and provides them to the Adamstown club under a yearly “facility licence and management agreement”.
Leading female player makes complaint
The City of Newcastle took action after leading female player Emma Pollock made a complaint of unlawful sex discrimination when she was told she could not join the club because of her gender.
The mens-only club is given “heavily discounted” court hire which “females would never be able to access”, according to Ms Pollock.
“I was extremely disappointed that this blatant gender inequality still exists in this day and age,” she said.
“I hope that bringing this issue to the public’s attention will encourage all sporting clubs across Australia to support fairness and gender equality.”
Ms Pollock made her comments on Monday to local media, the same day Queenslander Ash Barty became the first Australian woman to reach world No.1 since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1976.
Tennis Australia confirmed that it had been working with the City of Newcastle and the club to address “this unacceptable situation”.
“This clearly breaches the national Member Protection Policy, as affiliated organisations must not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, religion or any other protected characteristic,” the sport’s governing body said.
“Tennis has a long history as one of the most inclusive and welcoming sports.”
Three months to change constitution
The club’s executive has 14 days to agree to “take a proposal to an EGM to amend the club’s constitution” – according to the letter sent by the City of Newcastle.
The club must then put the proposal to a members meeting within three months, and the proposal must be approved.
Discrimination law specialist Miles Heffernan from Harassment Claims said it is unlawful to discriminate against someone based on an attribute like sex.
“This tennis club has been in breach of anti-discrimination laws for decades, and it’s about time they were pulled up,” he said.
“The law is clear, you cannot treat someone less favourably because of an attribute like their sex, or gender, or sexual orientation.”
Sport should do all they can to attract participants
Mr Heffernan said sports should be doing all they can to attract fans and participants.
“For a sport to succeed, you want as many people participating and watching as you can – and if you ban a section of the community – you are undermining your own success,” he said.
“You only have to look at the excellent work of the AFL that goes out of its way to make sure everyone is welcome, men, women, gay, straight and anyone in between.
“Clearly Tennis Australia knows this too – which is why they have come out so strongly to condemn the current constitution of this old fashioned tennis club with its old fashioned and outdated rules.”
Speaking to the Newcastle Herald, Ms Pollock agreed.
“Tennis is a lifelong sport and should be made available to those who want to support and be part of their local club regardless of gender, age and skill level,” she said.