Sport and criminal behaviour

Whether it was Zola Budd in the 1984 Olympics who was blamed for Mary Decker’s Olympic nightmare or Roy Keane’s horrific tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland, it is well recognised that a person may be injured during the course of a sporting event, especially a contact sport such as football, rugby or indeed ice hockey.  It is not uncommon to see sports people injured as a result of coming into contact with another player. However, the question is, when does a rough tackle become an act of assault?

Recently the Swiss Federal Court upheld the criminal conviction of an amateur footballer following a tackle he made during a game.  A player was in possession of the ball when he was tackled by the accused.  The tackle was made at ankle height and as a result the player suffered a broken ankle.  A foul was deemed to have been committed.  The referee sanctioned the attacking player with a yellow card.  Therefore, the referee thought that the accused had committed a dangerous tackle but without intent.  However, the accused was subsequently charged with the criminal offence of grievous bodily harm.  The Court at first instance held that he had made the tackle recklessly and without thought to the risk or consequences of the tackle.  He was duly convicted but appealed his conviction to the Swiss Federal Court which dismissed his appeal and upheld the criminal conviction.

Recently in this jurisdiction in a case before Newry Crown Court a Gaelic footballer was cleared of causing grievous bodily harm after the prosecution offered no further evidence. It was alleged that he committed an assault on an opposing player. The accused had conceded that he had punched his opponent fracturing the victim’s eye socket. However, it was his evidence that he did so believing that he was about to be struck and that he had been subjected to “vile abuse and taunts and being punched” by the complainant.

Each case will revolve around its own set of unique facts and needs to be seen in the context of the game. If you have been the victim of an on-field assault or have been charged with an assault please contact our office to discuss this in more detail.