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Discrimination in Sports

View profile for David Feakins
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Discrimination in sports has received a lot of media attention in the past month or so. Former England women coach Mark Sampson was investigated for allegations of racial discrimination against England player, Eniola Aluko, as well as for “breaching professional boundaries” whilst a coach at Bristol Academy. Sprint cyclist, Jess Varnish, attempted to pursue a case against UK Sport and British Cycling for unfair dismissal, sex discrimination, victimisation and whistleblowing.

These cases show that allegations of discrimination are still rife within sport. Under the Equality Act 2010, the meaning of “employment” has been widely interpreted to include not only employees, but also workers and those who are self-employed. Sports clubs, therefore, need to be particularly careful when dealing with any kind of alleged discrimination. Clubs will need to adhere to the Equality Act, otherwise they will run the risk of a discrimination claim being made against them. 

Jess Varnish, as a UK Sport-funded athlete, was not classed as a worker for the purposes of the Equality Act. This meant that her case was unsuccessful as she did not have the legal status to bring a valid claim against UK Sport and British Cycling.

However, although unsuccessful, Jess Varnish’s case has raised some important issues concerning discrimination. All sporting clubs should be taking a proactive approach to minimising the risk of discrimination and investigating thoroughly allegations that are made as well as ensuring that there are up-to-date policies and procedures in place and that they are being readily followed. 

If you are a sporting organisation or an individual who has been directly affected by discrimination, please feel free to call me on 01245 453870 or email david.feakins@birkettlong.co.uk to discuss the matter further.

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