Men-only dinner is ruled unlawful

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ONE OF the last bastions of sexism collapsed yesterday when Rachel Anderson, a football agent, became the first woman to win a discrimination case for being ejected from a men-only dinner.

In a judgment which could have repercussions for single-sex events across the country, Judge Brian Knight QC ruled that the Professional Footballers' Association had acted unlawfully in refusing her entry.

Mrs Anderson, 41, the only woman agent accredited by Fifa, world football's governing body, challenged the union after she was thrown out of its 1997 awards ceremony despite being the guest of the former West Ham captain Julian Dicks.

Her banishment sparked fury from sportsmen and politicians. The then sports minister, Tony Banks, boycotted the event with the support of Tony Blair, who wrote to Mrs Anderson, insisting: "The Government deplores discrimination."

Mrs Anderson said she was "thrilled" after the Central London County Court ordered the PFA to pay her damages of pounds 7,500 plus interest - close to the maximum pounds 10,000 for injury to feelings - as well as her costs of about pounds 100,000. "This is not just striking a blow for women, it is striking a blow for sensibility," she said. "They could have excluded anyone even on the grounds of race or colour."

Katherine Knight, spokeswoman for the Football Association - whose former chief executive Graham Kelly and current executive director David Davies - have refused to attend the single-sex event, said last night: "Football is trying to change its image of being a male bastion and another barrier has been broken down.

"We might only be a few years away from some of our women becoming semi- professional players and then they would presumably be eligible to become members of the PFA."

The court heard that Brendon Batson, deputy chief executive of the PFA, personally asked Mrs Anderson to leave the 1997 annual dinner at Mayfair's Grosvenor House Hotel.

The following year a request for an invitation for her from Mr Dicks elicited a response from the chief executive, Gordon Taylor, that the PFA "did not wish to change the dinner from being men-only". Mr Dicks replied that the policy was "the last whimperings of a dinosaur".

Mrs Anderson, of Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, took out a case for exemplary damages for breach of the sex discrimination in 1998, supported by the TUC and Equal Opportunities Commission. The PFA claimed the event was private and consequently did not fall under the remit of the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. But its argument was rejected when the court ruled that as numerous male sponsorship guests bought tickets it did constitute a public event in the eyes of the law.

The PFA announced last night that it would be appealing. It said in a statement: "It is presently the wish of the management committee that the annual dinner should remain a private function. As a result of this case, sponsorship of the dinner may have to be reduced."