At the women’s World Cup football, England’s Lauren James stepped on to the backside of a prone Nigerian player, Michelle Alozie. James copped a red card and a two-match ban. England’s rugby captain Owen Farrell was initially shown a red card for a reckless head-high charge on Wales’ Taine Basham, a punishment that was later rescinded on appeal. All sports speak of reducing injuries, and some work towards it.
Rugby’s new ‘bunker review’ system has a television match official deciding whether a yellow card — which is what Farrell was given on field — deserves to be upped to a red. It was changed to red in this case, but the decision was overruled by a committee. The high tackle is banned in an effort to make the sport safer.
These two recent examples bring us to the question of making sports in general safer. Rule-makers have a responsibility to make sports, especially those with a potential for life-crippling harm, as safe as possible without sucking out the frisson that makes sport what it is. This is a delicate balance to maintain. There is both the sport itself, as well as the activity around it, like spectatorship.
Lawyers speak of ‘assumption of risk’ which generally releases a player from liability after injuring another in the course of a game. The argument is: those who take part in a sport assume the risk of certain injuries. Sports come with the possibility of injuries that are known beforehand. You can fracture a bone, twist an ankle, or be subject to any number of related injuries on the field of play. If you are a spectator, you cannot sue if a ball hits you when you are seated in your place — that risk is assumed too.
Negligence and malicious acts cannot be assumed, however. Nor can reckless behaviour. I suspect a good lawyer might have got the Italian defender Marco Materazzi a fair amount of money had he sued France’s Zenedine Zidane after the latter head-butted him in the 2006 World Cup final.
When boxer Michael Watson was knocked out by Chris Eubank in a middleweight bout in 1991, a crucial seven minutes were lost as doctors were not immediately available at the ringside. Watson was in a coma for 40 days and then on a wheelchair. He sued the British Boxing Board of Control for negligence and was granted a million pounds (later reduced to 400,000 pounds). The High Court ruled that Watson’s consent to the fight (‘assumption of risk’) was not a consent to the inadequate safety measures.
In the case of the two examples we started with, it’s interesting that Alozie responded to James with: “No hard feelings. It’s just a game.” As for the rugby case, former England player and coach, Sir Clive Woodward said, “It has made the game a complete and utter laughing stock.” One is a personal reaction that speaks well of the wronged, the other a considered opinion of a professional worried about where the sport is going.
- The doping conundrum: Deliberate deception or accidental actions?
- Last Word: Making sports safer
- PAK vs SL LIVE Score, Asia Cup 2023 Super 4: Pathirana gets two as PAK loses Haris early
- Bonucci confirms legal action against Juventus after ‘humiliating’ treatment
- Davis Cup: India announces five-member team for Morocco clash