GTA tennis league violates women's human rights, players charge

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal will decide if a popular GTA tennis league discriminates against women, in a case that calls into question the way recreational sports leagues and facilities distribute prime playing time between women and men.

The InterCounty Tennis Association is facing a complaint at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

The InterCounty Tennis Association is facing a complaint at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging that the association discriminates against female players. (Mihai Singer/InterCounty Tennis Association)

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal will decide if a popular GTA tennis league discriminates against women, in a case that calls into question the way recreational sports leagues and facilities distribute prime playing time between women and men.

Three female tennis players from Toronto (a fourth applicant on the original complaint was not present at a hearing last week) allege that the InterCounty Tennis Association (ICTA) provides men with more opportunities to play than women and therefore violates the Human Rights Code of Ontario.

"It's 2017 and we just think it's time for men and women to have equal opportunity in evening league sports", Fiona Miller, one of the applicants, told CBC Toronto.

The ICTA, a non-profit corporation, runs four competitive tennis leagues across the GTA. More than 120 teams at 90 tennis clubs participate.

Fiona Miller is one of four tennis players who filed a human rights complaint against the InterCounty Tennis Association, alleging one of its leagues discriminates against women. (CBC)

The human rights complaint focuses on the format of the ICTA's "mixed league" in which men and women compete together.

Twelve players compete in weekly fixtures that feature three men's doubles matches, two mixed doubles matches and one women's doubles match. It amounts to eight spots available for men and just four for women.

"We think the fixture is discriminatory and it's not justified," Miller said at a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing last week. "It means that women are supposed to take a back seat, even in community sports."

Not enough 'strong women,' ICTA president says

But the ICTA maintains that the male-favoured format reflects the demand among men and women to play league tennis at a competitive level in the GTA.

"The concern we have heard over and over again is that it's really difficult to find enough strong women to play in a fixture that would be comprised of six men and six women. In fact, even with four women and eight men, clubs often struggle to find enough women," ICTA president Anton Katz told CBC Toronto.

Anton Katz is the president of the InterCounty Tennis Association. (CBC)

Changing the league's format has been proposed three times at ICTA general meetings. On each occasion, club representatives voted to maintain the current format.

"The balance that we have matches the demand that's out there," Katz said.

The ICTA's lawyer, Wade Poziomka, argued at the tribunal that the 8:4 men-to-women ratio needs to be considered in a broader context.

Along with the mixed league, the ICTA also runs women's, senior and junior leagues. On top of what the ICTA offers, there are also other tennis leagues available to women in the GTA and, as a whole, the leagues actually provide women with more opportunities to play competitive tennis than men.

Lawyer Wade Poziomka is representing the ICTA at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. (CBC)

"Is that discriminatory? Probably not," Poziomka said in an interview. "There are female leagues, there are male leagues. This is just a league that happens to have a higher number of males than females.

"I don't see this as a human rights issue when you look at it in that context," he said.

But the applicants want the case focused squarely on the ICTA's mixed league and the timing of its matches.

Prime time

The association's most popular and competitive league, mixed league matches take place on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. As with many adult recreational sports associations and facilities, weekday evening playing time is the most coveted.

The three applicants — they have no lawyer and are representing themselves — repeatedly told the tribunal that although women may have more opportunities than men to play competitive tennis in the GTA, it's only if daytime leagues are part of the equation.

The ICTA was founded in 1962. Daytime women's tennis leagues remain popular in the GTA, but the applicants argue that times are changing and women deserve more opportunities to play in the evening.

"It's not a good argument to say, 'You can play during the daytime, women'," Miller said.

Finding a balance

In the GTA, demand for recreational sports is high, facilities are limited, and co-ed leagues are a convenient way to ensure both men and women can get access to them during the evening.

In many team co-ed sports leagues, organizers approach the gender equity problem with rules that require a minimum number of women on each team.

Rolston Miller is one of the founders of the Toronto Sport and Social Club, which has more than 25,000 participants in dozens of sports leagues, including softball, soccer, and hockey.

Rolston Miller is the co-founder and CIO of the Toronto Sport and Social Club, a recreational sports organization with approximately 25,000 participants. (Toronto Sport and Social Club)

Like the ICTA, Miller has been asked to make some leagues 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men.

"I believe ethically and morally, it's the right thing to do, but it isn't so easy when you're balancing the demands of participants and facilities. The data we have collected over 20 years says that going 50-50 could make it problematic for many team captains to find the number of women necessary to play," Miller said in an interview.

While they have an important role to play, Miller doesn't believe achieving gender equality in adult recreational sports should rest solely on the shoulders of the local organizations, which often don't have the capacity to recruit, market, and attract more women to sport.

Miller says that problem needs to be solved by government policies that encourage women and girls to participate in sports.

"We're not perfect," Miller said. "But if it wasn't for our leagues, the opportunities for women's sport in the city would be drastically lower."

About the Author

Trevor Dunn

Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español. trevor.dunn@cbc.ca