Wednesday, 22 February 1995

RFU loses sex discrimination case


BEVERLEY DAVIS, a Cornish dentist, won her sex discrimination case against the Rugby Football Union yesterday.

The 35-year-old honorary secretary of Helston RFC plans to stand for election as Cornwall's representative on the RFU's national general committee but claimed that the all-male RFU at Twickenham was damaging her chances in the poll by questioning whether its rules would allow her to sit on the committee, should she win the local vote.

At Brentford county court Judge Bishop granted Davis an injunction restraining the RFU from raising doubts about her eligibility until after the election. The RFU had written to the Cornish RFU last year quoting its rule 17 and hinting at doubt about women members serving on the committee.

The RFU said Davis could stand for election but, even if she won, it had not yet decided whether it would admit women. 'I am not prepared to be disadvantaged because I am female,' said Davis, who feared clubs might think a vote for her 'could turn out to be a wasted vote'.

Judge Bishop agreed with her yesterday, saying the RFU had had ample time to sort out its rules and that the delay in doing so had clearly been to her electoral disadvantage. 'The defendants have appeared to treat her less favourably than the men,' he said and he refused the RFU leave to appeal.

The RFU claimed that as a private club it was not covered by the Sex Discrimination Act. It said it could interpret its own rules as it wished - but anyway it had yet to decide whether its rules precluded women from the committee. But Lindsay Bryning, a solicitor for the Equal Opportunities Commission, claimed the RFU was not a private club, for it provided public services, and that there were many female members of RFU clubs, so they should be allowed to be represented nationally.

Twickenham's male diehards say any committee member should fulfil the same eligibility requirements as England rugby players; and, because RFU rules bar a girl over 13 playing in the same matches as boys, such a requirement could never be met. In addition, since the national women's rugby body had always made clear its desire to remain separate from the 'male' RFU, this should be reflected in the committees of the two organisations.

The Helston club, of which Davis is secretary, was formed in 1965, so has none of the history of famed Cornish teams. But the name of Helston resounds uniquely in sport, for the little hill town was the birthplace, in 1862, of Britain's only world heavyweight boxing champion Bob Fitzsimmons. Obviously the tradition of breeding fighters continues.

One by one sport's male bastions have fallen. Might the clubhouse at St Andrews or MCC's pavilion and committee room at Lord's be stormed next? All 'masculine' trophies are presented on the pavilion balcony and it jarred after the 1993 women's World Cup final that the presentation was on the outfield grass.

It reminded some of the Durban Open Golf Championship at the height of South Africa's awfulness when the Indian winner Sewgolum received his trophy outside in pouring rain while the white competitors he had beaten watched from inside the clubhouse.

In the Sixties the Jockey Club was forced to give way when the trainer Florence Nagle won in the Court of Appeal and put an end to its chauvinist fiction by which training licences were granted to women only 'in the name of their stables' male head-lad'. Now the club accepts women members and women jockeys.

Many golf clubs are still riddled with discrimination through the male-dominated 'private' get-out, and the men fight on with petty, dyed-in-the-wool misogyny.

In the first dozen years since the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, the Equal Opportunities Commission received some 2,000 complaints about the lower status and treatment of women members of private sports clubs. Davis's case will be another landmark.

Source Citation
"Rugby Union: RFU loses sex discrimination case in court." Guardian [London, England] 22 Feb. 1995

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