O'Connell foresees legal action over incidents


VIOLENCE IN SPORTS AND THE LAW:IRELAND AND Munster secondrow Paul O’Connell has said although he does not believe there is a problem with violence in sport, the conditioning and weight training undertaken by professional rugby players could lead to situations where they could be injured more easily.

“Generally in sport a few punches might be thrown over various incidents and it’s generally not a problem because guys don’t do damage,” said O’Connell. “But now with training and weights guys are becoming more and more powerful and someday someone’s going to do damage with a punch and the law may have to be involved.”

O’Connell made his observation when he appeared in University of Limerick with Law Professor Jack Anderson from Queen’s University Belfast in an open discussion on violence and aggression in sport as part of the Contemporary Understanding of Emotions in Society. The conversation examined the role and impact of violence and aggression in sport from the perspective of a player and the role that law might or might not play.

“The appeal of contact sports for spectators and players alike lies in the controlled aggression and physicality of the playing field,” said Prof Anderson. “When a player oversteps the mark, the tendency has been for the players to sort it out themselves on the field with the mantra being ‘what happens on the field stays on the field’. And yet no area of society, not even sport can operate outside the law. Players must be aware that acting in violent manner which is clearly outside the rules and spirit of the game, may make them liable to legal action and even criminal liability,” he said. “An assault is an assault whether it occurs on the street, in the family home or on the sports field.”

Nearly every week, players, referees or managers, who through their actions or words, go beyond the boundaries of what a sport will allow, although, few players have been prosecuted outside the laws governing their particular sport.

Last year it was reported Everton striker Victor Anichebe settled out of court with Newcastle after instigating legal action over a tackle from Kevin Nolan that left him sidelined for 11 months, while Rangers footballer Duncan Ferguson also served time in prison for a head butt on Raith Rovers’ John McStay and served a sentence at Scotland’s notorious Barlinnie prison in 1995.

On July 2008 Joey Barton was given a four-month suspended sentence after admitting assault occasioning actual bodily harm on former team-mate Ousmane Dabo during a Manchester City training ground dispute.

A rugby player was jailed this year for breaking an opponent’s jaw. Jack Weston, a number eight for Keynsham RFC, twice punched Ben Staunton of Oldfield Old Boys when the amateur sides met in a local derby in November last year. During a melee, witnesses described how Weston ran into the mix and punched Mr Staunton twice. Mr Staunton described the first blow as six out of 10 and the second 10 out 10. The punches landed Weston a red card, followed by six months in prison.

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