Skip to main content

Pregnancy Discrimination and Sport: National Pregnancy in Sport Guidelines for the Australian Sporting Industry

Discrimination Sex Discrimination

Pregnancy Discrimination and
Sport: National Pregnancy in Sport Guidelines for the Australian Sporting

Paper presented to the Australian
Sports Commission by Commissioner Pru Goward, Federal Sex Discrimination
Commissioner. Monday, 13 May 2002.

  • The issue of pregnant
    women in sport raises a number of issues; legal, medical as well as
    human rights. Some are based in fact, others are medico-myth, more reflective
    of fear and ignorance.
  • Such as the notion
    that women will automatically and immediately be affected and impaired
    by pregnancy - as though pregnancy were an illness or disability.
  • Or that the sight
    of a pregnant body will somehow offend or affect those around her -
    as though pregnancy was catching, or scary, or evoke in others a need
    to protect the pregnant woman at cost to themselves.
  • With this in
    mind and, as Minister Rod Kemp has rightly pointed out, discriminating
    against pregnant women who play sport has implications for the strength
    and integrity of discrimination law in a wider sense.
  • These guidelines
    are a welcome demonstration that the government is doing something positive
    and proactive to help the sports industry understand all the issues
    surrounding pregnant women in sport. It will serve as a valuable resource
    to enable sporting organisations and sport participants to make informed
    decisions about pregnancy in sport.
  • We at the Human
    Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission have had the pleasure of being
    closely involved in the work of the Sports Commission in creating these
    guidelines. I attended the National Forum on Pregnancy and Sport held
    in August last year, as my very first engagement as Sex Discrimination
    Commissioner, and was given the opportunity to comment on the guidelines
    in draft form. I congratulate and commend the Sports Commission for
    ensuring issues of discrimination were central in its considerations.
  • For us at HREOC,
    these guidelines will be particularly useful in managing complaints.
  • Apart from public
    awareness, policy and legislative development, the HREOC is responsible
    for taking public complaints from people who feel that they need advice
    or assistance with a problem caused by discrimination or by a breach
    of human rights. One of the grounds of unlawful discrimination, of course
    is pregnancy and potential pregnancy. As Sex Discrimination Commissioner,
    I am not directly responsible for handling complaints made under the
    Act. That is the role of the President. However, I am always concerned
    to monitor the number and nature of complaints of sex discrimination
  • The HREOC will
    asses the complaint to ensure it falls under one of the discrimination
    laws it administers, investigate the facts and contact the respondent.
    Where possible the Commission will attempt to conciliate the complaint
    or resolve it as early as possible.
  • Pregnancy discrimination
    amounts to 17% of complaints made under the Sex Discrimination Act annually.
  • These guidelines
    will be useful in assisting parties to conciliate complaints, and to
    help parties come to a mutually satisfying outcome.
  • Overall, the Pregnancy
    in Sport Guidelines provide a sensible direction on how to deal with
    what has proved to be a surprisingly sensitive issue.
  • Pregnancy is not
    an illness, but rather a part of life, the person best equipped to make
    the decision about the health of her child is the mother and her medical
  • Sporting organisations
    and administrators owe a duty of care to people, including pregnant
    women, who participate in sport.
  • However, these
    guidelines indicate that a sensible approach is to assume that, with
    appropriate advice and information from the organisation, a pregnant
    woman, along with her medical practitioner, will make the right decision
    concerning her participation in sport. These guidelines give sound advice
    to all those involved.
  • The message that
    I took away from them is that we can all relax and enjoy our sport:
    it is good for us and its fun, whether we are pregnant or not.

updated 14 June 2002