What does the law say?
There is no specific law which relates to sport and at times already established laws have to be applied to the sporting context. Specifically in relation to professional sport EU law has been used as has contract law and criminal law in relation to the actions of supporters and certain individuals in selling of tickets for sporting matches.
However, it isn’t simply professional sport that can come under the guise of the law certain acts involved with any sport whether it be amateur or professional will attract the law, most notably the criminal law.
Offences Against the Person
The criminal offences of common assault, actual bodily harm (ABH) and grievous bodily harm (GBH) are governed by the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and in certain situations can be applied to conduct that occurs on the sporting field of play.
How do these offences apply to actions on the field of play?
These days it is much more common for the courts to find that conduct on the sporting field of play constitutes a criminal offence developed through case law rather than establishing a statute to develop these offences in the sporting context.
The leading case concerning an offence against the person being committed in the sporting context is concerned with a football match where one participant committed a horrendous tackle on an opponent just as the opponent had scored the winning goal of the game. The tackle caused a vast amount of damage to the claimants ankle.
What is necessary to establish?
It is often difficult to establish whether an assault or something more serious such as ABH, or GBH has occurred on the field of play in a sport such as football as fouls and strong tackles are part of the game often resulting in serious injury.
It was held in this case even if the offending conduct is a foul it is still necessary to determine whether the conduct was something quite outside what could be expected to occur in the course of a football match.
This means that in order for an offence against the person to be established during the course of a sporting context each case will need to be looked at on an individual basis. What first must be established are the requirements for Common Assault under Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act, or Section 47 Offences Against the Person Act ABH, or GBH under Sections 18 – 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act. Once this has been established there must be a further requirement to establish whether the conduct was outside what could be expected from a normal football match.
How do we establish whether the conduct was outside what could reasonably be expected?
Whether misconduct happening during a sporting context is in fact criminal will depend upon the following factors:
The type of the sport participated in
The level at which the sport is participated in
The nature of the act
The degree of force used
The extent of the risk of injury
The state of mind of the defendant
Consequently if it is often difficult to establish that a criminal act has occurred during the course of a sporting context.
Does Consent have a part to play?
In the sporting context there may be implied consent to inevitable and reasonable physical contact and to minor breaches of the rules such as fouls which are said to be commonplace but this will not be the case where there is a serious assault or battery such as a head butt or a punch.
Consent to serious injury is seen much more in sports where offences to the person are said to be commonplace such as boxing or fencing so it may be much more difficult to prove that a criminal act has taken place in the context of one of these sports.
How do we therefore establish that consent has been given?
To establish that consent has been given we can look at the decisions from the case involving the footballers where it was stated that the players who participate in sport consent to certain contact even if it causes, through unfortunate accident, injury which may be or a serious nature. However, footballers do not consent to deliberately being punched or kicked with such actions constituting an assault.
To establish whether consent has been given for an offence against the person we need to look at what would usually be consented to in that sport. If we take the example of boxing a boxer would consent to being punched and would even consent to a low blow as often this happens by accident during the course of a boxing match. What they would not consent to however, would be a head butt or biting of an ear.
An individual who has been subject to an offence against the person during the course of a sporting context can also make a claim to a civil court on the grounds of the tort of trespass to the person.