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Understanding the law

Sporting clubs and associations have legal duties to address behaviours which offend community standards, as well as those standards set by the association itself.

It is not uncommon for a person to be sued for financial compensation if association or competition rules have been broken resulting in physical or emotional damage to another person.

Similarly, the association itself may be sued for breach of its duty of care owed to members, officials and visitors, by virtue of the conduct of individuals at its games or activities.

Discrimination and vilification of persons on the basis of attributes such as gender, age, religion or race is against the law. Breaching such laws can result in large penalties for individuals and sporting associations, not to mention the damage to reputation which may result from the publicity surrounding these issues.

If the behaviour of individuals or groups at your sporting event or activity is sufficiently serious that it offends the criminal law, then formal criminal charges and legal sanctions may follow.

Criminal law

People involved in grass roots sport are not immune from the criminal law just because their behaviour might occur at a sporting contest.

There are many instances where both on-field and off-field conduct by participants, officials and spectators have attracted the attention of the criminal law.

For example, a soccer player was fined $250 after being found guilty of common assault for spitting at a referee during a women's soccer match. The complaint was laid with the police by the referee.

Interestingly, by the time the criminal sanction was handed down, the player had already received a life suspension by the soccer association for the offence.

Criminal assault

Criminal assault is the most common form of unlawful abusive behaviour which might arise at a sporting contest. It can arise in either of two ways:

  • Through behaviour that causes the victim to feel threatened by the actions of another. Words by themselves do not amount to an assault. There must be some act or gesture accompanying the words which together indicate an intention to assault or which a reasonable person would understand as indicating such an intention
  • Behaviour which results in the actual infliction of unlawful force on the body of another.

Common assault is the least serious form of assault and may or may not involve physical contact (e.g. spitting). Common assault charges often result in a fine if the offender is convicted. In order to establish an offence of common assault it is necessary to establish an intention by the offender to cause harm, or recklessness where the accused person appreciates the risk of harm involved with their conduct but proceeds to carry out that conduct anyway.

More serious assaults include those involving actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm. These offences require actual bodily harm to occur whereby the health or comfort of the victim is interfered with.

There have been numerous instances of on-field sports participants and off-field sports spectators being charged with assault involving actual bodily harm and courts have clearly demonstrated that they will not tolerate such behaviour whether in the sporting context or otherwise.