First written for and published by LawInSport.Click here to view the original article.
With Wimbledon having just taken place, UK tennis was again in the world spotlight. In the search for the next Andy Murray, difficult decisions have to be made about which aspiring players should receive the benefit of funding and support.
Such benefits are vital for any aspiring young tennis player in their quest to reach the top of the rankings. It is perhaps no surprise therefore, that decisions regarding the provision of funding, opportunities and publicity for junior players have given rise to legal challenges by individuals who feel they are not being treated fairly.
A recent example of such a challenge is provided by the case Isaac Stoute is bringing against the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), in which he alleges that the LTA has discriminated against him on racial grounds. This blog looks at Stoute’s case and an earlier case, and considers the types of legal issues that may arise in respect of the provision of funding and support.
Isaac Stoute is a black, 18-year old professional tennis player from South Croydon. In February 2012, Stoute started proceedings against the LTA (the governing body for UK tennis), contending that it had discriminated against him in relation to funding, training opportunities, tournament selection and publicity, preferring to provide such benefits and support to lower ranking white players.
This claim marks the latest stage in what is apparently a long history of dispute between Stoute and the LTA going back over a number of years. In fact, Stoute had previously brought proceedings against the LTA complaining of discrimination in 2009, although those proceedings were settled.
Unlawful discrimination is prohibited by the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act“). Under section 29(1) of the Act, a service-provider concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public (whether for payment or not) must not discriminate against a person requiring the service. In particular, a service-provider must not discriminate against a person as to the terms on which it provides the service to them, by terminating the provision of the service to them or by subjecting them to any other detriment. Direct discrimination is defined by section 13(1)of the Act, which provides that a person discriminates against another if, because of a protected characteristic, they treat that person less favourably than they treat or would treat others. The protected characteristics covered by the Act include race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Stoute argues that the LTA has breached its legal obligations by treating white players more favourably than him in respect of the provision of funding and support. He is seeking reinstatement of his funding, a declaration of unlawful race discrimination, damages for injury to feelings and loss of sponsorship opportunities. To succeed in his claims Stoute will therefore have to establish not only that white players have been treated more favourably then him in the way he alleges, but also that the reason for any difference in treatment is his race. The LTA, for its part, strongly refutes all Stoute’s allegations, stating “we take all matters regarding equality and diversity extremely seriously and we are committed to providing transparent selection polices with regards to player funding and selections”.
Stoute’s case was originally dismissed on technical grounds back in August 2013, however his appeal against that decision was recently allowed by the Court of Appeal. Handing down judgment a few weeks ago, the Court was keen to stress that the issue it had to determine was entirely procedural and the fact that it was allowing the claim to proceed implied no view whatsoever about the substantive merits of the claim.
Whilst it therefore remains to be seen whether any of Stoute’s allegations of discrimination will be proved, the nature of the case demonstrates one of the possible legal challenges where junior tennis players feel that they are not being provided with the funding and support that they deserve. If they believe that it is linked to a protected characteristic – for instance race, sex, or religion – then they may have grounds for bringing a claim of discrimination against the body responsible for providing those benefits.
Stoute is not the first young tennis player to have alleged discrimination against the LTA. In 2005, Yasmin Clarke, an aspiring junior player, also suggested that the LTA had discriminated against her on racial grounds. However, Clarke went on to become involved in legal proceedings not against the LTA for discrimination, but against former tennis star David Lloyd for breach of contract.
Shortly after her dispute with the LTA, Clarke joined the newly formed David Lloyd Tennis Academy, an independent academy run by Lloyd and funded by the LTA. However she subsequently lost her place at the Academy – and the benefit of its funding – when it terminated their contract in August 2007. She then brought legal proceedings against Lloyd and the Academy, alleging breach of contract and claiming damages for the loss of the Academy’s training services and support. The claim was dismissed, with the High Court rejecting Clarke’s evidence that she had been exploited by Lloyd and the Academy, and finding that they had been perfectly entitled to terminate relations with her in August 2007.
Although Clarke was unsuccessful on the facts, the case highlights another potential avenue for challenging the withdrawal of funding, training and other services. Where there is any contractual basis to the provision of such services (for instance by way of a management agreement as was alleged in Clarke’s case) then the decision to terminate that agreement could give rise to allegations of breach of contract and a claim for damages to compensate for the loss of funding.
The LTA states that it is committed to ensuring British tennis remains “open, accepting and accessible for all sections of society” and cites its achievement of preliminary status of the Equality Standard for Sport as evidence of this commitment. It remains to be seen whether the LTA will be shown to have fallen short of these standards in the case of Isaac Stoute, however regardless of the outcome of those proceedings, the provision of funding and support is bound to remain a contentious issue. As a result, Stoute’s case is unlikely to be the last legal challenge on the subject.