Having surveyed in Part One some examples of violence in sport that led, or might have led, to the intervention of the law, attention turns in this second installment to why the law is perhaps not always an appropriate way of dealing with such situations.
The case against prosecuting
Aside from the presence of implied consent, one of the main arguments against convicting sports players where their actions would otherwise constitute assault is that most sports have official rules and governing bodies empowered to bring disciplinary measures. What is more, such bodies tend to consist of individuals with expertise that allow them to make an informed assessment of an incident. Amongst the sanctions they can impose are bans as well as fines; that said, some might argue that oftentimes, financial penalties fail to hit sports players where it hurts (excuse the pun).
For what it’s worth, FIFA Rule 12 states, amongst other things, that “violent conduct is when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball”, and that “a player who, when not challenging for the ball, deliberately strikes an opponent or any other person on the head or face with the hand or arm, is guilty of violent conduct unless the force used was negligible.” Excessive force is adjudged to be “when a player exceeds the necessary use of force and endangers the safety of an opponent and must be sent off”. The Rule goes on to say that “a tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality must be sanctioned as serious foul play”.
The issue is that the rules governing various sports are arguably immaterial to determining whether a player’s actions fall foul of the law of the land. If the officials don’t spot a foul, and even if the governing body doesn’t subsequently address it, the law still applies.
Another argument favouring internal handling of offences is that overzealous intervention by the law might detract from the very essence of sport, with the effect of diminishing its appeal. Sport is after all a spectacle that entertains in part precisely because players expend enormous effort each time they compete.
These arguments are persuasive and deserve to be factored into the equation when considering how to deal with excessive violence in sport. Likewise, the severity of the injuries that can result from egregious incidents such as some of those considered above must also be taken into account. Only last month, boxer and UFC fighter Tim Hague died at the age of 34 as a result of injuries suffered in a bout with Adam Braidwood which ended with him being knocked unconscious in the second round – footage of the fight makes for unpleasant viewing. Cricketer Phil Hughes died from a cricket ball to the back of the neck, causing a hemorrhage due to cerebrovascular damage. Though not the result of intentional acts of violence beyond the parameters of sport, these two examples act as reminders, as if any were needed, that sports entail serious risk of injury. And given that unintended injuries can be fatal or at least catastrophic, intentional acts of aggression are as likely, if not more likely, to have such consequences.
This article has only scratched the surface of what is a delicate and difficult area – although there are some that may not view it as such. The criminal law probably best serves as a last resort for violent acts in sport, for it would be a shame to dampen the appeal of sport by putting players in a position where they feel it necessary to moderate the vigour which they invest into their performances. But equally when incidents are sufficiently serious, the law should not shy away from intervening. No person, be they a sports player or not, deserves impunity from the law. The Allende case mentioned at the outset is perhaps an extreme example and the consequences he will face are anybody’s guess.