Tennis for anyone? Discrimination on the court

In any sport, funding and support are fundamental ingredients in helping an individual to compete at the highest level.

Recently, a case has been brought against the governing body for UK tennis, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), for discrimination in respect of provisions for support and funding.

The case, brought by Isaac Stoute, an 18-year-old tennis player from Croydon, alleges that the LTA discriminated against him on grounds of funding, training opportunities and choosing to give benefits to lower-ranked white tennis players. This is not the first time a case has been brought against the LTA for an alleged discrimination.

Under the Equality Act 2010, unlawful discrimination is prohibited. Specifically, Section 29(1) of the Act states that a service provider (in this case, the LTA) must not discriminate against a person requiring that service (Mr Stoute).

Section 13(1) defines direct discrimination as when a person discriminates against another if, because of a protected characteristic, they treat that person less favourably than they treat/would treat others. The protected characteristic covered by the Act includes race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Mr Stoute’s claim is based on the above sections of the Equality Act and he contests that the LTA has treated white tennis players more favourably than him in relation to funding and support, and thus have breached their legal obligations. To be successful in his claim, Mr Stoute will have to prove that white players have indeed been treated more favourably than himself, and that the reason for this was because of his difference in race.

It is a difficult test to prove and the LTA are strenuously denying any discriminatory treatment. If Mr Stoute is successful, he will seek a reinstatement of funding, a claim for damages for unlawful discrimination, as well as any lost sponsorship opportunities (although given his age, this may only be a small sum or the potential to earn through sponsorship).

The LTA’s commitment to ensure that British tennis is “open, accepting and accessible for all sections of society” is being challenged and they may be proved to have fallen below their own standards.

The outcome of the case remains to be seen; however with the increased participation and growth in young talent in many sports, this case demonstrates the legal avenues available for young sports stars who feel they are not being provided with the support and funding they deserve from their respective governing body. Mr Stoute’s case is unlikely to be the last relating to this subject.

Daniel De Saulles is an LPC student at the University of Law, Birmingham.