Jail Players Who Commit Dangerous Tackles

The International Sports Law Journal, January-April 2008 | Go to article overview

Jail Players Who Commit Dangerous Tackles


In a wide-ranging interview published in The Times on 7 March, 2007, Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, the world governing body of football, called for life bans and criminal sanctions to be imposed on players guilty of dangerous tackles. In other words, not only should such conduct be dealt with under the 'Laws of the Game' resulting in sporting sanctions, but should also be the subject of prosecutions under the Criminal Law. For, as Blatter pointed out: "Attacking somebody is criminal, whether it happens on a football pitch or elsewhere." Adding: "It is a crime and should be treated as such." These suggestions follow closely on the heels of the spectacular tackle suffered by the Arsenal player, Eduardo da Silva, which resulted in a fractured left fibula and dislocated ankle.

Blatter is quite right to call for such measures and his remarks, in fact, reflect the general principle that sport should not be a licence to commit thuggery as recognised in the English criminal case of R v. Lloyd ([1989], 11 Cr App R (S) 36). Such tackles may constitute, at Common Law, an assault. And the general aims of the law of assault is to protect people from being caused unnecessary harm and also to deter others from causing criminal injury in the future. Most sports include safety rules designed to avoid players suffering injury. But when players go beyond the accepted norms and culture enshrined in a particular sport to cause injury to other players, the Criminal Law steps in to provide the ultimate sanction (see R v. Billinghurst [1978], Crim LR553). And rightly so. As Dr Mark James, an expert on the interface between the Criminal Law and Sport, points out in Chapter 15 on 'The Criminal Law and Participator Violence' in 'Sports Law' by Gardiner, James, O'Leary, Welch, Blackshaw, Boyes and Caiger, Cavendish Publishing, London, Third Edition, 2006: ".... the law has both an actual and a symbolic role to play; to punish those who cause injury and to be seen to be enforcing the aims of the criminal law." Indeed, there is a public interest dimension to be served. Of course, the injured player can also bring a legal action for damages in the Civil Courts. In such cases, the standard of proof that applies is the lower one of 'on a balance of probabilities'. On the other hand, if criminal charges are to be preferred--in either a private or a public prosecution--the standard of proof is higher, namely: 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

A crime needs two elements: the wrongful act ('actus reus'); and the intention to commit that act ('mens rea'). So, any prosecutor trying to put a dangerous tackler behind bars will be faced with the task of proving both, but especially the criminal intent, which may prove difficult, according to the circumstances of the particular case. …

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