Ban sports clubs who actively discriminate from NGB affiliation, & hold NGBs accountable.
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UPDATE 24th March 2018:
My protest outside London Rowing Club at the 2018 Boat Races, I am currently campaigning for legal representation and to raise awareness of my case.
UPDATE 22nd February 2018:
As of 27th May 2016 I am still awaiting a hearing, of any kind, since raising my grievance against London Rowing Club. Since then I have subsequently raised complaints against a number of other organisations who not only failed in their duty and which resulted in the failure to provide me with a hearing 8 months on from my complaint and which I was subsequently forced to take legal action, but at present has failed due to a lack of resources to do this (please read my crowdfunder for full details http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/sex-discrimination-in-rowing/).
But I was also victimised by a wide range of individuals and organisations, including rowing clubs, as a result of raising this grievance and being forced to go public due to inaction and avoidance from both the club and the governing body, and while I have been put through this the past two years, disenfranchised in the sport and which fighting this case has incurred both a personal and financial cost to me, no action has been taken by anyone on the matter and it is my belief this is an endemic issue of a lack of accountability among organisations within sport who support eachother's positions rather than do their jobs, while the community on the whole rationalises and excuses this behaviour.
Organisations who have failed in their duty include:
British Rowing - for failing to uphold their grievance procedure with an affiliated club who are breaking discrimination laws and governance guidelines, and which is known among the rowing community and the governing body, and the area participation manager from the governing body initially advised me 'sorry, not all our rowing clubs are like this, taking my British Rowing hat off why don't you just find another club?'. British Rowing famously say 'we always advise people to try out each club to see which is right for you ', which seems to be their cover-all for any issues with regards to unlawful practices taking place in clubs, with no checks as to whether affiliates are following affiliation rules. Every time I wrote to British Rowing expressing issues with London Rowing Club frustrating the process I was simply pushed back. The Chairman Annamarie Phelps simply responded to me 'I've passed it on to the relevant people' who then got lawyers involved, paid for with public money given to them by Sport England to govern grassroots sport, who prevented me from contacting British Rowing and eventually ended up trying to coerce me into an unfair hearing against governance rules, but on retrieving data requests from British Rowing discovered and internal email from Annamarie Phelps stating 'we've bent over backwards for this lady'.
Thames Regional Rowing Council - the regional governing arm of British Rowing, and the body I was pointed to after going to British Rowing regarding my complaint and what to do about it, and was informed the then president, Martin Humphrys, was a 'no-nonsense man and wouldn't take any truck with sexism in clubs', except it turned out he is a life long member of London Rowing Club and he did not respond to my contacting him on two occasions over as many months and I was later told by British Rowing he had 'stepped aside as it would have been a conflict of interest', but rather than tell me this and appoint someone else I was simply given radio silence. This was also an issue with regards to the TRRC safety officer Anthony Reynolds, who after I raised an incident with him with regards to the club's safety practices and being told he would get back in 2 days, I heard nothing more.
Sport England - for failing to investigate and respond to my complaint that British Rowing were obstructing my complaint to the NGB, that London Rowing Club were undermining and refusing to comply with grievance procedures, and in response British Rowing used lawyers to communicate with me, and on January 2017 again used their lawyers, paid for with public money, to try to bully and coerce me into an unfair hearing with London Rowing Club, with Julian Pike of Farrer & Co. (of phone hacking scandal fame) saying 'you will have to legally prove members of the club are conflicted as members of your hearing panel', when it was completely against the rules anyone involved in the dispute was not allowed to be on the panel, and that meant any member of the club. Sport England's only response to this was 'we can't do anything because we don't fund London Rowing Club', side stepping the fact that they do fund British Rowing to govern grassroots rowing in the UK. Just before my legal case I retrieved a letter the club had written in response to an enquiry from British Rowing about how they had handled procedures, they not only falsely claimed I was trying to 'leapfrog' processes, when I had followed each and every step and they had simply delayed, manipulated and undermined the hearing stage, but they also added to the NGB 'we expect you to protect us'! I mean that is literally the club basically saying 'we're special, look after our interests' and read like a vague threat, and is exactly the behaviour I experienced from the NGB in terms of how the blocked me with lawyers while they consulted and fraternised with the club, continuing a publicly supportive relationship with them while in full knowledge they had refused me a hearing. In response to my complaints about this, again, British Rowing's lawyers responded claiming British Rowing and it's chairman's public support of the club was not a conflict of interest, which I beg to differ when I was not given a hearing in nearly two years because the governing body couldn't, or wouldn't, do their job.
DCMS - when I had initially written to the Department of Culture Media and Sport, or Digital Culture Media and Sport as it's known now, in October 2016 after 5 months of trying to obtain a hearing and being blocked from assistance by British Rowing, I had asked dCMS for advice. They wrote back saying 'British Rowing are responsible for investigating their affiliated clubs, however, if you don't get anywhere with them you can go to Sport England'. As I wasn't getting anywhere with British Rowing who were using lawyers to block me from communicating with them, I wrote to Sport England and complained about this, who were equally unhelpful. After being told by London Rowing Club that they would no longer be communicating with me about my grievance after raising a letter before action to protect my legal status due to time limitations, I wrote to DCMS regarding the entire situation and that the whole process had failed and I was getting no support from the governing or funding bodies. DCMS initially told me that 'we can apply funding pressure to get a response', however, I was never aware anything like that took place and after several months I was then told 'there's not much we can do until you've completed the grievance process with the club', which I reminded them the club had failed to do this and were now refusing me a hearing altogether, after the panel originally setup had failed due to misinformation and failure to follow due process, which resulted in my having to make data requests and to this day the chair of my panel has refused to comply and even wrote to British Rowing asking 'am I compelled to comply?' The behaviour I experienced from a number of people throughout this has been truly astonishing, entitled, and with a sense of impunity, not least because they are not held to account by the government.
Mortlake Anglian and Alpha Boat Club - after eventually being able to start training again after a year long ordeal I approached MAABC to train at their club. I was allowed to start training but there was something very strange about their allowing me to sign up as a member and I kept being told 'we're having a meeting about membership this week, but don't worry, we let anyone join, we have to, we're a community club'. Except two weeks later I received an email from them stating that due to my grievance against London Rowing Club and the governing body they couldn't let me join, for no other reason than I had a complaint against the NGB and another club, a powerful one at that. If you want anymore evidence as to why people in sport may not speak out this is it, because they are illegally victimised and prevented from partaking in the sport, or prevented from fulfilling their potential.
I have had many incidences over the last year of plain nastiness from individuals in rowing around the UK, some from London Rowing Club itself including women who think loyalty to a club is more important than equality and women's opportunities and progress. I have had prominent individuals support me only to then turn their backs when it compromised their interests with the organisations and individuals implicated. Namely prominent members of the committee of Henley Royal Regatta who have close ties with London Rowing Club and a huge influence on the sport, and yet HRR as an organisation is governed by no body within the sport and is why it is still able to have unequal competition for men and women, and a discriminatory dress code; yes, women are not allowed to wear trousers, which to me is like something out of the 19th century let alone the 20th, and it is my view that this "loop-hole" allows the influence of discrimination to persist in the sport unchallenged.
I for one will never compromise my rights and integrity simply to be associated with what is perceived to be a "prestigious" club, sport or activity, and this attitude fundamentally undermines equality for many across sport, bullies and victimises those who speak out, and this culture in sport has to stop and has to be on the side of progress and the right side of history.
This, however, cannot be achieved by the small number of individuals who are willing to put everything on the line to speak out. Over the past 22 months I have lost work, my home, my physical fitness and deterioration in mental health due to the stress, strain, loss of opportunity and the impact this has taken on my entire life. There needs to be rigorous rules and accountability in place at the top of sport whereby DCMS govern, UK Sport and Sport England are accountable for NGBs who govern sports and if they are found in breach of governance rules they are to sanction through removing public funding, partially or completely. That NGBs are to be wholly responsible for their affiliated clubs and any breach in affiliation rules are to be actioned by the NGB and failure to do so will result in funding sanctions.
This is the accountability needed but which at present is sorely lacking and instead what we have is NGBs who cosy up to affiliates and do not govern the sport but allow it to self govern, and funding bodies who will only act on contractual agreements which are inadequate in their coverage of sport governance and not fit for purpose.
The fact I have been fighting simply to be heard, on top of the issues I experienced, since 27th May 2016 without a hearing and where public money was in fact used by the governing body to pay lawyers to prevent them from dealing with this and then subsequently misrepresented my legal case against them to the courts, resulting in months of agony and resulting in hardship, is not only a disgrace but a fundamental breach of human rights and an abuse of power, trust and position, and which the government must act on.
While I may only be one voice in my particular situation, there were many who complained of LRC'S treatment of women and which was known to the governing body, but I was the only one willing to speak out. I know there are many others who experience what I have in sport, and far worse, and is why my case, and all individuals speaking out about these issues in sport, are important for everyone.
Here is my original grievance:
I experienced active discrimination and victimization as a woman whilst at London Rowing Club which is affiliated to British Rowing, hosts the Metropolitan Regatta which is a British Rowing recognized event, and who are highly involved in the rowing scene and compete at all levels around the country and internationally, and pride themselves on being 'one of the most prestigious clubs in the UK'.
This club refuse to provide the same level of membership, participation and support to women as they do men. Women train alongside the men in the squad but do not receive coaching and are not supported in entering races, and are told they 'need to be very self sufficient women to train in the squad'. When I raised complaints I was harassed by a member of coaching staff and subsequently removed from training, along with the remaining women in the squad, when I made a complaint. I was victimized by club officials who explained away inapproptiate behaviour and the difference in treatment of men and women in the club and I eventually left in August 2016, as many before me have, due to their denial and refusal to address this issue.
I have, since October 2016, been refused a hearing. Firstly, after protecting my legal case due to the process having taken nearly 6 months, the deadline by which you must protect a case in court should out of court processes be unsuccessful, and after finding out that the club had purposely tried to undermine the formal hearing even occurring by sending an email to the chair of the panel and British Rowing stating:
'At this point we do not know where you are with the panel selection, but it is my belief that Petra does not actually want her complaint heard as she knows that the club has tried to help her. She has received more care and guidance than any other member at the club over the winter and through the summer.' This revealed a fact that the club were prepared to tell barefaced lies, unless they felt that answering my questions about lack of support for women, although not quite in the same way I would expect, was in some way "guiding" and "supporting" me. Yes, I will be forever grateful to them for showing me the light that men are given support while women are not good enough and need to train harder and earn it, and even then are not supported.
After receiving this, among other emails where the club had purposely withheld information, and it was clear they were determined to undermine the grievance process, I raised a complaint against the club chairman for doing this and the club refused to continue to comply with British Rowing grievance procedures and I was told to 'kindly get a lawyer'.
I have since made complaints to British Rowing regarding the club's handling of my complaint and refusal to comply with their grievance procedures and continuing to deny me a hearing which resulted in my having to start legal proceedings. The governing body spent three months apparently communicating with the club to finally get them to cooperate, but when they did, they told me they would be willing to give me a hearing but only in front of members of the club. Since informal discussions with the club had already failed, and my complaint being against the governance of the club itself, this was entirely inappropriate. I had previously been granted independent people to sit on the panel, this is not a requirement of the grievance guidelines which states that those sitting on the panel must be independent of the dispute, but the complainant also has the right to disagree with panellists put forward, within reason, my reason being that no member of the club could be independent of the dispute, and I had already experienced issues of bias from the club itself in the way I was treated after making a complaint regarding inappropriate behaviour. Also, that the then chairman of Thames Regional Rowing Council, and now the President (it seems people get promoted in rowing when complaints are made about them) felt he could not communicate with me regarding my complaint after I was directed to him by British Rowing themselves, because he is a member of London Rowing Club. If someone who barely spends time at a club, and is only a member in name more than actual participation, feels their membership would cause issues should they get involved in a complaint against the club, then surely members sitting on my grievance panel would cause the same issues, so how London Rowing Club could then justify this is inexplicable. This was done simply because they had been caught, and they have since shut their doors and refused to respond.
Since January 2017 the governing body, in full awareness of my outstanding grievance which had not been addressed in 8 months and counting, had not only previously congratulated the chairman of London Rowing Club on becoming one of the new stewards at Henley Royal Regatta and were in full knowledge he was heavily implicated in my complaint for discrimination and victimisation, as well as avoidance of the process, but the Chairman of British Rowing, and British Rowing themselves, continued to have a public and affectionate relationship with the club, with the Chairman attending social events and tweeting about what a 'lovely atmosphere' it was. This was whilst I was still battling with the club, and with British Rowing, for something to be done about this situation, but which fell on deaf ears, and I had for some time been forced to communicate through British Rowing's lawyers, who the governing body brought on in September 2016 after I had contacted the Department of Culture Media and Sport for advice on the situation.
The governing body are funded by Sport England for grassroots rowing in sport in the UK. British Rowing are in turn responsible, in their own words, for 'creating and enforcing the rules to do with all aspects of rowing in the UK', including grievance procedures and rules of equality, and you cannot be an affiliated club if you do not abide by these rules, and treat person/s differently based on protected characteristics.
London Rowing Club purport to be an equal club but they are not. They allowed women into the club in 2007 but the elite women who trained at the club, a long time ago, are long gone, and they were allowed into the club after LRC were funded by British Rowing to take them on. Since this funding was taken away the club has continued to allow women into the club, but on second rate terms to the men yet paying the same fees, and the numbers of women never changed this. When I was a member there were at least 20 women, however, many had either previously trained in the squad and given up or were discouraged from progressing and never allowed to train in the squad, being told that recreational rowing was their level and 'don't try to do what the men do [and sweep], stick to sculling', is one choice example I can quote from the volunteer who ran the "affectionately" named 'Irregulars' recreational group at the time.
I never realised until after my grievance was raised it even states on their website two completely different things for men and women.
On the men's squad page in the FAQs it reads:
'Q. I'm worried I might not be experienced enough to row at London.
A. Don’t worry. Firstly, anyone can join London. We have a squad system, which allows us to accommodate varying levels of experience. For example, those who haven't rowed before would join the "Learn2Row" group on a structured course, then continue to row casually until competent enough to join the Senior squad.'
It says nothing like this on the women's page, in fact only if you are an "elite" rower are you encouraged to even consider being taken seriously. Whilst on the Recreational Rowing page it states:
'In recent time ladies have become an important part of the group which has some 25 oarsmen and 10 oarswomen covering a wide spectrum in age and ability but all share the same joy in boating, exercise and comradeship.'
Quite, I mean it is the sheer "joy in boating, exercise and comradeship" and not personal achievement, which is why we join the club. London Rowing Club are still living in the 1890s, however, the treatment of women in the club is far more serious and less lighthearted than their advertising would let on. Throughout my time at the club I came across woman after woman who complained of discrimination, who had tried and failed to be taken seriously, and that this had affected their morale. One girl telling me the treatment she experienced 'destroyed her confidence'. They had trained in the squad, as I had, been ignored and left, and after I raised my complaint of harassment after I had told the head coach I had sought extra help, at my own cost, due to the lack of support I was being given, which I thought they would have been encouraging of at the least, at the most realised they were failing the women who were having to seek private tuition due to the coaches not coaching the women or supporting them in their endeavours to race, I was removed from training altogether. When I asked why I was the only one they had removed all the women were subsequently palmed off into the recreational group, where we would go from training 10x per week to 2x per week, and the "coach" was an inexperienced volunteer who had questionable knowledge about rowing, the rules of the river, and who had made sexist and discouraging comments to the women.
I refused to be treated in this undignified way by the club, who turned around and tried to claim I had insulted the club by refusing to cooperate with this "solution", and were outrageous in the excuses given for the behaviour I had experienced from the head coach. The Chairman citing his nationality and background in sport saying 'women would have given as good as they got', and the club captain, a woman, telling me 'well I've removed you from the situation now so you don't have to worry'. It was not the first time this behaviour had been raised, and which I subsequently received reports not just from the women, but the men as well, of harassment and bullying within the squad. But it was clear this was condoned by club personnel. During the incident I complained of I had approached the head coach during a training session to explain I had decided to seek 1 2 1 tuition from another coach at the club, after being told I would categorically no longer be receiving support as they were coaching the men for Henley and I'd be better off in the recreational group, this was after 7 months of training with a few other women in the squad, where I had been actively encouraged to stay in the squad by a 3x Olympic rower, who had also allowed me to row solo on the tideway based on my ability even though I had never taken a steers test but was an experienced canoeist and knew the rules, I was not the fastest rower, having only been training for 4 months when I started at LRC, but I was a competent rower, and perfectly capable of the apparently "gruelling" training schedule which I easily fit around my work and life, except on the odd occasion I was called away on business, which was subsequently used against me to try to question my commitment when I raised issues regarding a lack of support for women. The men do exactly the same, and again it says on the men's squad page:
'Q.How much training will I have to do?
A.The senior squad has a training programme akin to other clubs' of similar ambition. Typically, athletes have one day off per week but some days there are two training sessions. Obviously, work/family/study commitments are inevitable, but ideally, athletes will try to make up the sessions in their own time to keep themselves, and the team, on track.'
The men's squad is a wide mixture of ages and abilities, they would happily take men on from the recreational group or learn to row, as well as experienced rowers coming into the club, and they would all train together. This is initially what happened when I joined the squad and I was never lead to believe the women should expect to receive any less.
The club always put the lack of support down to the number of women in the squad so I and others asked them to recruit more women, but they wouldn't and said 'we will never poach athletes from other clubs', which is not what I had asked them to do, I had asked them to simply put an ad up on social media as nearly every club does when it wants to recruit. They did eventually, but this only advertised for men, and low and behold men came from other clubs. It was clear they were using numbers as an excuse to justify discrimination, but they wouldn't recruit nor let the women who wanted to train and progress to do so.
During this incident with the head coach on 25th of May 2016, after telling him I had sought extra support, he became irrationally enraged, told me if I didn't like the program they had for women then I should leave the club, started using the fact I'd gone away on business and temporarily lived further away as a reason why I could no longer be in the squad. I walked away and he stormed out the gym in a rage. 2 minutes later he came back in after I'd resumed my weights training, marched up to me, glared at me and said 'Petra, you can't go out rowing anymore on your own without a coach until you're signed off!'. This was after 7 months of having been allowed to, and several months ago I had asked him if I could take the safety test which other's had been telling me I needed to do, but when I asked the head coach if I could do this he had said 'no, I've seen you row and it's not necessary, you've been out at night and you know the rules'. I asked him why had he not let me be signed off months ago and continued to let me go out rowing alone, usually when there was no one around to coach a session or the men were off doing something else and I wanted to train. He said 'us Australians aren't so bothered about health and safety as you Brits'. Nevertheless, I felt he had used the fact I was not signed off as leverage to do what he wanted me to do. I said I wouldn't go out alone but that he had to organise for me to take the test. However, he persisted in hounding me around the gym whilst I was doing my weights, continuing to tell me I couldn't go out rowing anymore as though he thought I was just going to go and help myself to a boat and take it out, when historically I had never gone out without his express permission. It is something I would never have done, not only out of respect for the club, but also for safety reasons and someone knowing where I was. I was brought up sailing and canoeing and safety had always been taught as paramount priority, as well as knowledge of the rules and environment. He continued to follow me around the gym in this frenzied fashion and paid no attention when I told him to leave me alone. I eventually said his behaviour was harassing me and he stopped. I said I didn't feel he was being straight with me and he then switched moods, from a fit of rage to joking around inappropriately, and said, 'no, I don't think I bat for the other team'. He asked me where I had been during training the night before. I said I was out for dinner, he shouted for all the men in the gym to hear 'oh, who's the lucky guy!', I said it was a female friend, he responded 'maybe it's you who bats for the other team!' He continued by saying 'Petra, I think you're a really great bird', I told him he was being inappropriate and he said 'no, I'm just a charmer'. He then came and sat down beside me whilst I was doing an exercise, told me 'I bet you're doing that wrong', I said 'well why don't you show me how to do it correctly then', which took him aback but he did show me, which was rare. His general approach to being asked for help was stubbornness, but if you had the patience to wait for 45 minutes while he rambled at you, you might eventually get 2 minutes of advice. I said to him 'I just want what they are given, no more no less', pointing at the 10 or so men in the gym I was training with. I was the only woman in the session, as often happened. He said to me, 'if you want coaching I'll coach you' which I found astonishing after being told to leave the squad for no reason whatsoever, and declined his offer after his conduct.
After this incident I reported this to the club. I received a response stating they would look into this, and a week later I had been removed from training with no notice. I had to call up to find out what had happened. They said 'oh, you said you wouldn't pay the fee for coaching so we took you off the list' or words to that effect. The story goes that 2 weeks prior to this incident in the gym, I had had a conversation with the Captain stating there was a complete lack of support for women and that I felt the extra fee for coaching was discriminatory as the women weren't coached. Her response was 'I don't think making the men pay and not the women would be a step forward for equality', side stepping the issue with coaching as though it wasn't happening, and yet we were being expected to subsidise this for the men. She said 'well I'm happy to remove you from the squad if you don't want to pay the fee'. I did not agree to this and continued to train in the squad without any notice of being removed for raising this issue. I continued to receive training schedules and emails from the head coach, however, it was at this point he started playing up and it felt he was actively looking for reasons to force me out of the squad, whether it be my work, location, but this didn't work because I made up for missed sessions in my spare time, which was corroborated by the assistant coach. This issue, I believe, culminated on 25th May 2016 where I was harassed by the head coach in the gym in an effort to make me leave, and is the reason I was removed from training by the club after making this complaint, because they had no intention of giving women in the club support of any kind.
One telling remark made to me by the club's administrator after I left was 'women have to be very careful, we have so much more to lose', she also stated 'I don't know why the club doesn't do more with you [women]'.
The fact the governing body have refused to get involved and yet continue to allow this club affiliation is completely against their own rules, and against their funding obligations.
This goes against British Rowing guidelines, and the Equality Act 2010, that clubs are not allowed to discriminate against women, as well as a number of other protected characteristics, and yet it is known to the governing body that the club are offering membership on a different level to women as they do men, to the detriment of women in the club, and no action is being taken.
I am asking British Rowing to set an example and also send out a clear message that you cannot be affiliated or participate in British Rowing events if there is discrimination in your club.
I am also asking Sport England to ensure that NGBs they fund abide by their responsibilities in upholding their rules of governance and affiliation, and are not supporting or allowing affiliation to clubs who discriminate, and therefore perpetuating this issue in sport. The problem being it has not yet been "proven" they do discriminate because they have avoided and refused to give me a hearing. So the first step is for the governing body to uphold their grievance procedures with an affiliated club, if the club do not cooperate, which they have had 10 months to do, they lose their affiliation and rights to take part in British Rowing events.
If British Rowing do not act in this situation then it is Sport England's responsibility to ensure governing bodies are upholding their rules regarding grassroots affiliation. The problem is there are several members of London Rowing Club on the governing body. I should have been able to go to Thames Regional Rowing Council regarding this issue, but when I did, I received no response because their Chairman at the time, and now President, is a member of London Rowing Club. In fact during my grievance the Regional Rowing Council counselled the rowing club and not me. I have received no support from any of the governing bodies representatives who are responsible for participation in the area and would say all have actively avoided engaging with me on this matter. My complaint was eventually pushed to the head of finance, who then employed lawyers to deal with the matter. So all in all there is a complete lack of accountability, and it is not really understood what the governing body are paid to do by Sport England to govern grassroots rowing in the UK.
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