Men-only Sydney tennis club defends controversial ban on female members

·5-min read

Nestled in Sydney's lower North Shore, the Northbridge Tennis Club is a small local club that prides itself on its culture and long history.

The privately-owned club opened in 1926 and as time has progressed, some locals are arguing its policies remain in the past; with the club only offering membership to men.

Tennis NSW terminated the club's membership in 2019 after they refused to budge on their policies. 

Instead, they made the decision to continue with their controversial decision to only allow male members.

Northbridge Tennis Club was established in 1926. Source: Northbridge Tennis Club.
Northbridge Tennis Club was established in 1926. Source: Northbridge Tennis Club.

Membership 'may well change' in years ahead

The club's president Winton Gibson cites history and the desire to keep the private club's membership low as the main reasons for the club's strict policy, adding the majority of the current members voted to keep the membership the same in 2019, 

"We did quite an extensive review a couple of years ago, whether we should be making any changes to the membership criteria," he told Yahoo News Australia. "[At] the moment the balance is in favour of not changing. But that may well change in the years ahead.

"The thing to remember is it's a private club and [it's owned by] private individuals," he explained. "It's developed a certain culture which has been very supportive of men's mental health."

Mr Gibson said the membership committee was aware that not everyone was happy with their decision.

"We're not really saying there's anything wrong [with women being members].

"As I said, if you look at it from a society-wide point of view, if we try and make everything vanilla, we try and make everything the same. And you start removing diversity of choice and options. Is that is that really beneficial to society?" Mr Gibson said, admitting not everyone agrees with the controversial choice.

"At the end of the day we're not going to make everybody happy with choices we make and we're not going to agree with everybody else."

Women log more hours on the courts than men

The club reserves two days a week for members to play, with it open for coaching and community members to hire courts on the other days.

Although women can hire the courts — and log more time than men doing so — they still cannot apply for membership.

"I just did not think that a facility or a club would exist like that in New South Wales in the present day," a former female player at the club, who wished to remain anonymous, told Yahoo News Australia.

Describing the membership policy as "archaic", the woman had initially approached the club wanting to start a female competition.

The club has a 'men's only' membership policy. Source: Google Maps
The club has a 'men's only' membership policy. Source: Google Maps

"I just honestly could not believe that there was still a men's only club. I couldn't believe it," she said. "I just thought it was so archaic."

"There [are] a lot of women around that would have been a great asset to the club," she continued. 

"Interestingly enough, most of those people didn't know that it was a men's only club and then when they did find out they were absolutely mortified."

The woman said she hopes in the future the idea of 'men's only' culture won't exist.

"The irony is they think that that culture is current and appropriate," she said. "And they're actually quite proud of their culture."

Membership terminated by Tennis NSW

A spokesperson from Tennis NSW told Yahoo News Australia the Northbridge Tennis Club’s membership was terminated as a result of their policies. 

"As an organisation we have very clear expectations of NSW tennis clubs to provide an inclusive and safe environment for all members of the community," a spokesperson said.

"In 2019 Tennis NSW attempted to come to a resolution with Northbridge Tennis Club that allowed all members of the community to access the facility, however, the tennis club [was] unwilling to compromise.

"Whilst we have attempted numerous times to change the minds of this tennis club, they are unwilling to change their policies and Tennis NSW has no power to change these policies on their behalf, therefore we cannot and will not recognise them as a member of Tennis NSW and refuse to endorse their club in any capacity."

The Northbridge Progress Association told Yahoo News Australia they hope a vote in the future will look at changing the policy but as it is a privately owned club they are within their rights to operate as they are.

"We hope the tennis club will resolve by vote to be an inclusive club and include female members in the near future," they said.

However, Mr Gibson said it's something that needs more time.

"I think [when younger members join] naturally some of the thinking will change and the weight of opinion will change," he said. "But it's not something you can just force to happen overnight."

In 2019, Adamstown Rosebud tennis club came under fire for refusing membership to women. However, the club has since changed its policy.

"Many women regularly play tennis, and as a community organisation we recognise the importance of including women members," a spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.

"This can be successfully achieved without adversely affecting men’s only tennis, or women’s only tennis, that may be played during designated member times at the Club."

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