Two Former Cricket Umpires Lose Age Discrimination Case Against ECB

Employment Lawyer Comments On The Significance Of Case

13.03.2015

Two cricket umpires who were forced to retire from their jobs at 65 have lost their legal battle after a tribunal ruled that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had not acted unlawfully.

Peter Willey (65) and George Sharp (64), who have umpired 40 international matches between them and  have over 40 years of experience of officiating first class cricket matches, took the ECB to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal and age discrimination.

According to the game’s governing body, cricket umpires should be forced to retire at the age of 65 because their reactions become “too slow for the game”.

Speaking at the Employment Tribunal, the ECB’s umpires manager, Chris Kelly, said it was perfectly justified in ending the men’s umpiring careers at the age of 65.

Mr Kelly told the hearing: “There’s a need to react speedily at times, and we wouldn’t want to put anyone at risk unnecessarily. It’s common sense. I used to be able to run for long periods of time, now I can’t because I’m older.
 
“At that age it’s not easy to stand for long games. A lot of older umpires have told me they feel the days are getting longer. The physical and mental pressures are greater.”

Government legislation introduced in 2011 abolished the default retirement age. The rules meant that employers were unable to force male employees to stop work at 65 unless they could objectively justify the decision.

Expert Opinion
Whilst justifying what on the face of it was discrimination here, the ECB has been able to overcome this hurdle persuading the tribunal that these umpires effectively prevented them from being able to succession plan and appoint umpires for the future. This is an argument that had previously succeeded in other cases but one that cannot necessarily be relied upon all the time as employers have to show that this is the case and there is no less proportionate way of achieving that aim.

"This is not always easy but something clearly the Tribunal have accepted. With limited grounds for appeal, it is likely that the umpires will be effective called 'out'."
Glenn Hayes, Partner