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Bowls In Focus : March April 2011
8 Bowls In Focus Mixed Pennant, Bowls Victoria and the Equal Opportunity Act It is with considerable frustration that many of us in bowls read the com- mentary by some bowlers on ‘Bowls Victoria’s direction on pennant’, the allegations of a ‘hidden agenda of the Bowls Victoria executive’, and lack of action by Bowls Victoria in responding to the dissatisfaction of many bowlers in not having single gender pennant competitions. This public debate and commentary is, although passionate and heart-felt in many cases, too often inaccurate and injurious to our sport. It is not true that Bowls Victoria is unaware of the issues, failing to take action or working under some hidden agenda. Bowls Victoria directors, represented in particular by Rosemary Varty, Betty Collins and Graeme Hosken, and I have a very keen sense of the expressions of dissatisfaction of many bowlers. We have traveled to meet with and discuss their concerns with some of those who are most vocal. We are also aware of the counter arguments put by many other bowlers. Some of these arguments have appeared in daily papers in recent days, but I also have numerous letters, emails and faxes to add to that list (arguing from both sides of the fence). The basis of much of the criticism of Bowls Victoria is that it should simply allow the conduct of a ladies pennant competition mid-week, along with a mixed pennant competition mid-week. The assumption seems to be that Bowls Victoria simply has to change its policy in relation to pennant; or, if there is a hurdle, take a survey and tell the powers that be that we want a change - and that because we want it, we should have it. 1. It is not Bowls Victoria that re- quires the conduct of mixed pennant. Under the current circumstances as determined by VCAT in 2001, the only single gender events allowed to be conducted in Victoria under the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 and subsequent VCAT decisions (except for a couple of club-based competition exemptions), are those for which the RVBA/VLBA/ Bowls Victoria have gained exemp- tions on application to VCAT every three years, as required. It is through the actions of the RVBA/VLBA and Bowls Victoria that we are able to conduct any single gender events at all. To conduct a competition in breach of the Equal Op- portunity Act is something no Board Director can do without exposing the Association to potentially significant legal ramifications. 2. These single gender event ‘exemptions’ relate to State Champion- ships and were gained because of the argument that they form part of an elite player pathway, where Victorian men and women champions need to be identified to then compete against the champions from other states/ter- ritories. There is no change to these exemptions for next year. But, pennant does not form part of such a pathway, and the same arguments cannot be taken to VCAT. 3. As stated in previous columns and ‘BV Weekly Bulletin’s, Bowls Victoria has been working closely with Lander & Rogers (our legal firm), the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Hu- man Rights Commission (VEO&HRC), while also consulting with club person- nel, to find what avenues under the legislation and VCAT rulings might be available to Bowls Victoria. 4. Recently, as part of my commit- ment as Chief Executive to assisting the Board with this matter, I attended a three-hour induction course at the VEO&HRC on the new Victorian Equal Opportunity Act, which will come into effect on 1 August 2011. I have been invited to follow up with them to learn more about some of the possible opportunities under the new Act. If the new Act provides possibilities to Bowls Victoria previously not available, we will explore them thoroughly. During the day, I was able to inform those at the Equal Opportunity Com- mission of the new governance struc- ture under Bowls Victoria: an elected Board of four men and four women; Regions and Divisions with male and female Chairman (or President) and Deputy Chairman (or Deputy Presi- dent); gender representation (where possible) on all committees. From the VEO&HRC perspective, we will be one of the best-structured State Sporting Organisations (SSO) in relation to our governance structures. Many SSOs are unable to get any female representation on their Boards. Our newly unified body Bowls Victoria has been praised by State Government, VicHealth, beyondblue, Bowls Australia and the other State Bowls Associations, for the strides being taken in establishing bowls as a major State Sporting Association, with a model governance structure soon to be fully in place, and for our ability to engage with a broad demographic of participants, including people with disabilities. Our integration of men and women across the levels of gover- nance wins high praise. And then, because of comments made in the major daily media this week (and in country papers over recent months), ‘Bowls Victoria’ and its ‘Executive’ are presented as being the cause of the problem, of doing nothing to address it, or in fact having a hidden agenda via which to work against the wishes of ‘bowlers’. Other letters have presented the views of smaller clubs and their reli- ance upon mixed gender, or of clubs very happy with mixed pennant as a competition structure. We are about to submit a proposal for the next three years of significant funding from our major funding partner VicHealth, based upon increasing the number of girls and women in our sport as players, coaches, umpires, administrators, etc. We need to main- tain our current membership while welcoming new girls and women to our sport. Will pennant be the major attraction for these new recruits? A significant incidence of decline in membership has been of females in the past 20 years, and yet some of our highest profile achievements have been by Victoria’s women (Sam Shan- nahan, Lisa Phillips, Joyce Lindores, Joan Tennent, Dawn Staggard, etc.) . Female membership (VLBA) declined by 45% in 1990-2010, the largest decline being in 1990- 2000 (28%) and a further 24% between 2000-2010. Male membership (RVBA) declined by 31.5% between 1990-2010, being a decline in 1990-2000 of 20% and of 5% between 2000-2010. (Note: between 2001-2010, men and women could affiliate with RVBA and VLBA). The RVBA and VLBA each lost in excess of 10,000 bowlers between 1990 and 2000 – prior to the Equal Opportunity decision. The reasons for such a decline will be many and varied, including the increasing number of women over 45 years of age who now work full- time, making any mid-week pennant competition inaccessible. The absence of single gender pennant mid-week will be minimally reflected in these statistics, because the number of men registering with VLBA in previous years has been marginal. That is not to say that figures this year may well reflect a further decline due to those ladies who say they have left the sport because of men playing in mid-week pennant. This is being taken very seriously by Bowls Victoria in assessing the pennant situation. The trend of declining female mem- bership, however, has been significant for more than 20 years and needs to address numerous factors (including pennant) in seeking to attract more girls and women to our sport. Increasing the number of girls/ women in our sport is part of Bowls Victoria’s greatest challenge: to assist Clubs to increase member- ship and participation. This is the primary goal as we establish our new committees, partner with Regional Sports Assemblies, form alliances with Local Government and seek to source further support funding (grants, sponsorships). Bowls Victoria cannot simply wave a magic wand and cause the requirements of Victorian legislation to change or go away. If there is a means via which Bowls Victoria can gain greater control of how it conducts pennant, we will find it by working with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Com- mission and those who have excellent legal experience in these areas. That is what we are doing. To those whom I regard as simply taking cheap shots at Bowls Victoria, please be aware that we are the only sport in Australia that is subject to an Equal Opportunity ruling that requires under Victorian legislation that our sport is not to be conducted on a gender basis unless granted exemp- tions to do so. As such, there needs to be a very clear and thorough understanding of the legal means by which Bowls Victo- ria might gain greater control over the conduct of pennant competitions. We are looking closely, along with legal advisors, at the new Equal Opportu- nity Act to see what might be available to us. This is a slow and detailed process and is not assisted in any way by allegations of doing nothing. To those who have publicly accused Bowls Victoria of ineptitude, inaction and even malicious intent in the matter of mixed gender, please be aware of the facts rather than damage the im- age and integrity of our organization. Peter Hanlon Lawn Order Lawn OrderLeading The Way Leading The Way Leading The Way