Unia sees possible discrimination case against Flemish broadcaster following homophobic remarks

Unia sees possible discrimination case against Flemish broadcaster following homophobic remarks
The Belgian Cats. Credit: Belga

Lawyers from Unia are looking into a possible discrimination case against Flemish broadcaster Eddy Demarez, after the VRT sports commentator was caught on a hot mic making homophobic and sexist remarks against the country’s female basketball team, the Belgian Cats.

Demarez was suspended for the remarks, which were made during a tribute ceremony for the returning Olympic athletes and sparked outrage across Belgium.

Unia, formerly the Centre for Equal Opportunities and the Fight Against Racism, describes itself as an independent public institution that fights discrimination and promotes equal opportunities, whose independence and engagement in human rights is recognized by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.

“We have received some 20 reports and we have opened a file. Our lawyers are looking into the matter,” Anne Salmon, press attaché at the Unia Equal Opportunities Centre told De Standaard.

Salmon expects to have more information regarding the matter on Wednesday.

“Unia will proactively contact the Belgian basketball association and the Belgian Cats,” said Salmon, adding that while they can’t yet say whether or not there will be a lawsuit, they are capable of acting as a facilitator.

“We can certainly give advice. Unia's internal specialists can help with that matter. How exactly we can help will become clearer in the course of the week.”

In the meantime, Unia is analysing the case internally and its lawyers are looking into labour law, ethical guidelines and possible discrimination.

“The subject was mostly discrimination based on physical characteristics, sexual orientation and gender,” Salmon said of the reports they recieved regarding the matter, none of which have yet come from the people involved.

“The latter is not part of Unia's domain. We have already approached the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men to see how we can work together on this.”

While the suspension of Demarez was announced on Saturday, the length of the suspension was not clear.

The athletes who were the target of the sports journalist’s derogatory remarks spoke out against them, and were joined by other women athletes, including Justine Vanhaeverma of the Red Flames.

Vanhaeverma called the remarks “disgusting, and of the very lowest level,” adding that the statements are indicative of how many people still think about female athletes.

“This shows once again what we, female (top) athletes, have to deal with on a frequent basis. We have all heard the many prejudices and derogatory remarks hundreds of times,” Vanhaevermaet said.

Demarez apologised for the remarks, saying they went “over the top” and made “in the euphoria after the honouring of the returned medalists.”

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