The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 is the main equality statute, having repealed and replaced earlier equality legislation. It prohibits discrimination in relation to the “protected characteristics” listed in section 4

  • age;
  • disability;
  • gender reassignment;
  • marriage and civil partnership;
  • pregnancy and maternity;
  • race;
  • religion or belief;
  • sex; and
  • sexual orientation.

Sections 5-12 provide individual definitions of these characteristics.

Direct and indirect discrimination

The Act identifies two types of discrimination: direct and indirect.

Direct discrimination occurs when a person, because of a protected characteristic, treats another less favourably than he would treat those without the characteristic.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a person applies a “provision, criterion or practice” which, although applied to persons with different protected characteristics (e.g. males and females) puts one group of persons at a particular disadvantage (e.g. disadvantages females but not males).

Application in the sporting context

The Act’s prohibition of discrimination applies only in defined areas, such as employment, services and public functions. Several of these areas are relevant in the sporting context, including: 

  • sports clubs and associations are subject to the Act in relation to decisions about membership and the benefits and services provided to members
  • where sports organisations are ‘service providers’ under the Act (e.g. where events or training are provided to customers), they will be subject to the Act’s prohibition of discrimination
  • employees of sports organisations will be protected by the Act  


What’s being done to tackle discrimination in sport?

Government position

Chapter 6 of the Government’s sport strategy (December 2015) looks at supporting people from all backgrounds to take part in sport. The strategy notes that under-representation is a particular problem among certain groups: people from lower socio-economic groups, women and girls, older people, and disabled people. It also states (on p21) that there may be significant under-represention or specific barriers to taking part for some lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender (LGB&T) and black and minority ethnic (BME) people.

In a February 2019 update on the strategy, Mims Davies, Minister for Sport, said that supporting people from under-represented groups would “continue to be a central focus”. After cases of discriminatory behaviour in football, the Minister also said that the Government would not tolerate “any form of discrimination in sport and sport club administrators, clubs and fans must continue to embrace diversity and tackle racism whenever they encounter it”. 

The role of sports bodies

Sport England distributes Lottery and Exchequer money to develop grassroots sport. Its website has a section on Equality and diversity.

UK Sport invests in the Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes. Its website has information on what’s being done to promote equality.

The governing bodies of individual sports have strategies to tackle discrimination – see, for example:


Relevant organisations include:

The Sport and Recreation Alliance is a membership organisation representing the sector. Its website has a range of material on equality and diversity. This refers, among other things, to the results (May 2018) of a survey showing that 40% of BME participants had a negative experience in a sport or physical activity setting, more than double that of white participants.

Parliamentary material

The parliamenary database includes this material on discrimination and sport in the current session. The material can be narrowed down using options on the left of the page.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published reports on:

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