Racism and unlawful discrimination

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Feeling included, being part of a community and having fun are benefits of belonging to a team or club. Everyone deserves to enjoy sport and recreation in an inclusive, supportive and safe environment. And to be treated with dignity, respect and courtesy.

Racism and other discrimination do not belong at any level of sport and recreation. Or in any part of our society. It’s everyone’s responsibility to call out and stop racism and discrimination.

What is racism and unlawful discrimination

Racist discrimination and harassment is unlawful. The same goes for sexual harassment.

Discrimination means being treated differently or unfairly because of a personal quality, such as race, sex, religion, disability or age.

No one can treat you differently or unfairly because of:

  • race, ethnicity, skin colour, nationality or citizenship

  • sex, gender identity, sexual orientation

  • marital, relationship, or family status

  • pregnancy or breastfeeding

  • disability

  • receiving a benefit or ACC

  • age

  • religious belief or non-belief, ethical or political beliefs and opinions.

In sport, for example, no one can stop you:

  • wearing a headpiece or full-coverage swimsuit because of your religious beliefs

  • competing in athletics because of your sex

  • having a political statement on your rugby wrist bands.

Discrimination is against the law in most areas of sport and recreation. Sometimes in sport it is ok to be treated differently or excluded from activities because of your age or sex. For example, a 12-year-old not being selected for an under-10 netball team.

Direct and indirect discrimination

  • Direct discrimination is treating someone differently or unfairly because of a personal characteristic. For example, not allowing you to join a team because you are an older person but have the ability to play at the level needed.

  • Indirect discrimination is putting rules in place that apply to everyone but puts someone at an unfair disadvantage. For example, uniform rules not allowing you to wear taonga like tā moko, pounamu or hei tiki.

Racism in sport and recreation

Racism is against the law.

It is illegal to discriminate against someone because of where they were born, their cultural background, what they look like or the colour of their skin. Racial harassment is using abusive, offensive or intimidating language or ridiculing someone because of their race. For example, making offensive jokes or using offensive nicknames.

It is language or behaviour that is either repeated or one-off, but serious enough to harm you. In sport and recreation examples include:

  • not being selected for a team because of the country you’re from

  • your club allowing only English to be spoken during training sessions.

Sexual harassment

Like racism, sexual harassment is against the law. It’s unwelcome sexual behaviour that makes you feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. Making offensive sexual jokes, asking you unwanted sexual questions about your sex life or unwanted sexual advances are all forms of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can be a one-off incident or repeated behaviour, a suggestive comment or an offensive joke. For example:

  • a parent sends sexually suggestive jokes about their child’s coach to a team’s group chat

  • your teammate regularly hassles you for a date and follows you home.

What is sexual misconduct

Examples of discrimination you may see

  • A coach tells a team member they played badly because of the country their family is from

  • A child is excluded from a scout camp because of their disability

  • An official isn’t elected to a committee because they belong to a particular political party

  • Women athletes can only train at certain times of the day, while male athletes are encouraged to train anytime

  • Spectators sing and promote racist songs to put off opposition players.

Sometimes there are exceptions to unlawful discrimination. There are safety reasons and fairness to other participants. Your age, sex or physical strength may play a part in treating you differently to others.

Times when restricting participation isn’t discrimination

  • You are injured and can’t effectively compete. For example, you have an injury that prevents you from playing tennis.

  • You are much older or younger than other participants. For example, an 18-year-old playing in an under-15 soccer team.

  • The activity is restricted to disabled people. For example, joining a basketball team for wheelchair users.

  • Your strength, stamina or physique gives you an unfair advantage over other participants, and only if it’s relevant, for example, a male boxer competing in a women’s only boxing competition.

  • To participate in a national or international elite level competition you need to compete in a single-sex competition to reach your goal.

  • A sports club runs a single-sex competition to increase the number of men or women in the sport where they are under-represented. For example, a golf club runs a women’s only competition to encourage more women to join the club.

Discrimination because of your gender identity

Organisations and clubs can’t exclude someone just because they are transgender or non-binary. Sports clubs need to prove a person has an unfair advantage – for example, their strength, stamina or physique – over other competitors, and it’s relevant to the sport.

The Human Rights Commission explains discrimination and gender identity in sport:

Sport New Zealand Ihi Aotearoa has guidelines for including transgender participants in community sport:

Why it’s harmful

Racism and discrimination are damaging and can affect your health and wellbeing. It can affect your performance and you may quit the sport or activity you love.

It can make you feel bad about yourself or alone. Or feel like it’s your fault. But racism and discrimination can happen to anyone, it’s never ok. And there are people who can help you.

Being on the receiving end can:

  • lead to a loss of self-esteem, confidence or mana

  • lead to depression, anxiety, risk-taking behaviour and self-harm

  • result in poorer performance, and loss of enjoyment.

It’s not only the person being targeted; racism and discrimination also affects those close to you. Everyone suffers if you see or experience discrimination. Friends, family, whānau, your team mates, and your community.

Organisations and clubs can lose out too if discrimination happens. Members might leave or new members might steer clear. The public and club sponsors might lose confidence and trust.

What you can do if you see racism and unlawful discrimination

Racism and discrimination happen in sport and recreation. It’s never ok and could be against the law.

If you see it, call it out and speak up.

Staying silent or doing nothing means the behaviour is unlikely to stop and may get worse. Speaking out can help stop it and keep people safe.

  • If you think someone is in danger, call the police on 111.

  • Provide support and a safe place. Listen to the person, make sure they know you take them seriously.

  • Ask them what action, if any, they would like to take and how you can best support them to do that.

  • Find out the details, who is involved, and how long it’s been happening. You may want to write it down. Make sure the details are correct and in their words.

  • Report it as soon as possible to your organisation or club through the right channels, for example, the club’s safety officer or head of the organisation. Or someone skilled in this area or who you trust will be able to help.

  • Report it to us, the Commission’s resolution service or another agency. For example, the Human Rights Commission.

  • Follow up with your club or organisation to check what steps they’ve taken to resolve the complaint.

  • Talk to the organisation or club about the policies they have to protect their members, and what steps you can take.

  • If it’s safe, talk to the person or group accused of racism or discrimination. Use the organisation or club policy to guide you on how best to do this, and what steps you should take.

What your club or organisation can do

  • Adopt and implement policies, and a code of conduct, which prohibits racism and unlawful discrimination.

    • Make sure they are fit for purpose and appropriate for the people they are designed for

    • Make sure they are implemented through clear guidance and enforced

    • Promote and communicate policies so that everyone knows where to find and access them.

  • Provide education programmes and guidance on preventing and recognising racism and discrimination for staff, volunteers, families and participants. Actively communicate this, and make sure everyone is aware. Include:

    • what is (and is not) acceptable behaviour

    • steps to take to prevent and recognise racism and discrimination

    • how to report an incident or make a complaint.

  • Make reporting easy.

    • Make sure everyone knows how to report an incident or make a complaint. Include where, who, and how they can report racism and discrimination. Make it clear that it is safe to report.

    • Have clear lines of reporting and actions for when people do speak up.

    • Have a clear process to follow up complaints and concerns.

  • Take concerns and complaints seriously, particularly from vulnerable people. Tell us at the Commission – and other services if it’s appropriate, such as the police – so it can be investigated by someone skilled in this area.

  • Make sure everyone in the club or organisation knows all complaints and concerns will be handled correctly and remain confidential.

Report an incident or make a complaint

Call the police on 105 to report an incident or call 111 if it’s an emergency.

We encourage you to report an incident or make a complaint using our free and independent service. When you make a complaint, it can be to more than one person or place.

Make a complaint

Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission also offers information and support, and has a dispute resolution process for complaints about discrimination and harassment.

Making a complaint – tikatangata.org.nz