Friday, 28 December 2012

Our Equal Opportunity Commission

has just ordered the Bowls Association (or whatever the call themselves) to stop running single sex matches and make arrangements for all games to be mixed. Apparently one person complained because she was not allowed to compete in the competition reserved for men. She has taken the matter up with the EOC and won. There has been an outcry over this.
I know a good many older (and indeed old) people who play bowls. It is not something I would want to do but they enjoy it. It gets them out of the house. They exercise (in a gentle sort of way). They socialise. Some of them play in competitions, others do not.
One of my maiden great-aunts played competition bowls almost until her death at something over 90 years of age. (She gave up competition tennis at 78 and competition golf at 80.)  One of the pleasure of bowls for her was the fact that it was "just women".  They could, apparently, relax in the company of other women. Other women have said the same thing to me. Men tell me, "It's a good way to get away from the women".
I have no doubt at all that the single sex social side of bowls has been much of the attraction for some people. There have been "mixed" matches at weekends for those who want to play that way. I believe it attracts some younger people - perhaps those who are still working during the week.
But, the EOC says this simple pleasure must stop. It is a breach of the Act as they read it.
I remember when I was on the Equal Opportunity Tribunal a similar issue came up. There were "golf camps" provided for boys but not girls. Someone put in a complaint that the girls were being discriminated against. Perhaps they were but the "camps" (sessions to teach young male teens the beginnings ofr that arcane game) were serving other purpses as well. There were also men willing to take on the role of teaching and mentoring boys.
The camps stopped because they could not, especially in the case of a residential weekend camp, safely provide for both boys and girls. Healthy exercise was curtailed because of a strict reading of the Act.  I know the judge who made the decision was not personally happy with it but that was the law.
I also know what will happen now. There will be people who simply stop playing bowls. They will not feel comfortable playing with the other sex. Some, like my great-aunt, will not feel comfortable socialising with the other sex.
There will be people who will say, "Too bad. That's up to them. They should learn to mix."
I do not believe it is as simple as that. The person who put in the complaint could have played in a mixed team - but perhaps not at a time of her choosing. As a result of her decision to take action the law has interfered in the way people can spend their leisure time. I do not understand the ins and outs but apparently the decision could end up doing even greater harm because, at national and international level, bowls is played largely on a single sex basis. (Yes, I know, some people will say "well, it is time that changed too".)
I think the real question however is, "How far should the law be able to interfere in the way we choose to spend our leisure time and with whom we spend it?"

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