Sporting bodies slam religious discrimination bill


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Seven of Australia’s largest sporting bodies want changes to the latest draft of the federal government’s controversial religious discrimination bill.

The Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPS) includes the AFL, NRL, FFA and Rugby Australia. Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia, and Netball Australia are also part.

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In their response to the bill, COMPPS argues its clauses are vague and create “significant uncertainty”.

Under the legislation, sporting bodies earning over $50 million a year can’t restrict religious expression in players’ behaviour, appearance or dress.

However, the bill permits sporting bodies to do so to “avoid unjustifiable financial hardship on the business”.

COMPPS warns the draft of the bill “provides no guidance or definition” as to what is “unjustifiable”.

“Sponsors… seek to align themselves with organisations with similar values and beliefs,” the COMPPS submission states.

“[COMPPS members] rely on revenue from sponsors to grow and promote their sports for all Australians.

“It is essential [to] establish codes of conduct allowing them to protect the reputation and value of their brand and the brands associated with them.”

Damage could include “failure to attract new sponsors, damage to reputation, media distraction, reduced rates of participation, and loss of confidence in the brand.”

COMPPS said they support the right of all employees “to demonstrate their religion via dress, appearance or behaviour.”

“However while this right is important, there may be instances in major competitive sporting organisations where it is desirable to limit or exert control over certain types of dress, appearance or behaviours,” they said.

The proposed bill comes after Rugby Australia’s out of court settlement with Israel Folau in the legal dispute over his sacking.

Religious discrimination bill creates ‘significant uncertainty’

The religious discrimination bill protects “statements of belief” from anti-discrimination action.

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However, COMPPS argues the bill’s definitions are too broad and create “significant uncertainty”. COMPPS warns of an increase in disputes as a result.

“Particularly within the sporting context, passionate statements of belief… frequently form the basis for public commentary,” the submission reads.

The bill lacks a “clear test” to assess “whether beliefs are genuinely held, or held in good faith,” COMPPS warns.

As a result, this could lead to people using the bill “in bad faith” to justify otherwise discriminatory statements.

COMPPS says the Bill “goes beyond what’s required to protect Australians’ rights to make statements of belief without fear of discrimination.”

As a result it “significantly limits the efforts of [sports clubs] to create inclusive, diverse, accessible and safe communities,” they warn.

COMPPS members need to “sensibly regulate” employees’ public speech “to promote inclusiveness and protect against the real risk of disrespectful online behaviour”.

“The bill essentially gives the person who makes statements of belief a privileged position over other rights,” the submission states.

“[This] does not accord with global human rights doctrines or the underlying intentions of sport to promote respectful relationships.”

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