Can females play in 'mixed' teams of any age?

Extract from Memo issued by Soccer NSW 11 February 2002

We confirm advice previously forwarded from the Anti-Discrimination Board and Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission regarding discrimination of Girl Players : –

1/ The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 states “Girls under the age of 12 years are permitted to play sport with boys, as they are considered to be equal based on strength, stamina and physique.

2/ No person can be excluded or discriminated against based on gender.

3/ Girls must be put where they have the best sporting opportunity and therefore girls can play in a mixed team after they have turned 12 years of age.

4/ The decision as to whether a girl 12 years and over is suited to play a sport in a particular team, should be based on the players suitability by strength, stamina and physique. This decision is ultimately the decision of the Association.

5/ If a person is excluded based on their gender, then the Association must be aware of the possibility of the case being taken to the anti-discrimination board for a decision.

As you can see from the advice received, a girl has the right to play in a mixed team at any

age and cannot be excluded just because she is a girl.

Based on this information it is recommended that girl players should initially be given the opportunity

to play in a girl’s team. However, if a girl then indicates that she would prefer to play in a mixed

team, it would then be a decision for the Association. This decision should then be based on the

girls suitability for that team, based on whether she has the strength, stamina or physique to play with

other members of the team and against players of mixed gender in that age group.


Extract from:

Soccer NSW Newsletter, Volume 1, No. 5 June 2004.

Girls Have Rights to Play

“Associations often ask about girls playing with boys in mixed teams,” Soccer NSW’ Jim Forrest, commented that in fact the rules are very simple.”

First, up to and including the age of 12 girls have the absolute right, by law, to play in boys teams. If there are selection criteria, they may be dropped to a lower division or not included in a representative team on merit grounds, like any male player.

However, there is no reverse law to allow boys the right to play in girls teams!“ I guess nobody ever thought they ’d want to,” Jim Forrest suggested,“ so the rule does not prevent competitions for 12s or younger being set up for girls ’ teams only.” Second, from the age of 13 and older, each jurisdiction (each Association, Branch or State body running its own competitions) has to decide for itself whether or not to let girls continue to play in mixed-gender teams, and to make a ruling covering their competitions.

What happens to representative teams is governed by the same rule up to age 12, subject to selection criteria. After that, it is up to the body running the competition (such as Soccer NSW with the Youth League).

“This whole approach came out of discussions between the former NSWASF and the Equal Opportunity Commission a number of years ago. Nothing has changed,” Mr Forrest concluded

Exemptions in relation to sport include allowing:

Strength, stamina and physique
single sex competition where strength, stamina or physique are important. Commonwealth law says this applies over the age of 12. Click on this link – Jernakoff case – for an example that highlights the above point.

different age divisions for children’s, junior and senior competition to take into account physical differences, which are in part a result of age.

What is unlawful discrimination?

Equal opportunity laws make discrimination on various grounds unlawful:

  • race
  • gender
  • age
  • disability
  • pregnancy
  • sexuality
  • marital status

Sexual harassment and victimisation are also unlawful.

However, things like age, gender and disability can have significant effects on sporting ability. These differences are most evident at the elite sport level. For example, compare the power of the best male tennis players with the power of the best female tennis players.

To take into account these differences, and to make sure there is fair competition, the law allows for teams to be organised into groups such as age groups, or sometimes single-gender groups.

Has a player ever successfully appealed exclusion from a sporting team

Yes…Lisa Jernakoff v the Western Australian Softball Association (1998)

Strength/Stamina/Physique Argument Upheld Lisa Jernakoff v the Western Australian Softball Association (1998)

Lisa Jernakoff was the only female member in a sub-junior (under 13 years) mixed softball competition team for the 1997 season. Prior to the commencement of the season the coach realised that three of the male members were due to turn 13 before the grand final and would therefore be ineligible to play. Instead of breaking up the team it was decided to enter the team in the junior team competition (13 to 16 years).

Two weeks into the competition an opposing team complained that Lisa was ineligible to play in the junior competition because of her sex. The competition was organised by the Western Australian Softball Association (WASA). WASA ruled Lisa out of the junior competition as it was for male players only.

Lisa’s parents then lodged a complaint on behalf of their daughter with the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity in relation to her exclusion from the junior competition based on her sex. The matter was referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal for hearing.

With the assistance of her parents, she lodged a sex discrimination complaint against WASA.

Dr Tim Ackland, a senior lecturer in the Human Movement Department at University of WA, gave evidence of research data indicating that significant differences begin to emerge between boys and girls at the ages of 13 to 16, with regard to strength, stamina and physique. Further, the particular athletic elements of softball (for example, throwing, pitching, hitting, agility, speed and acceleration) would accentuate those differences. Hence, boys in that age group would have an advantage, even though there might be individual female players from time to time who could compete on equal terms.

The Equal Opportunity Tribunal of WA decided that softball amongst 13-16 year olds was a competitive sporting situation in which the strength, stamina and physique of competitors is relevant. Therefore, it decided that it was lawful to exclude members of one gender from such a competition (pursuant to the exemption in section 35 of the Act).

As such, the complaint was dismissed.