Sport is central part of Australian culture. Most of us can remember a time when a sporting match has gotten heated; there may have been a few elbows involved, even some push and shove. Recently, commentators have said that there is a developing ‘culture of violence’ in some sporting codes. In Victoria, the football community is demanding harsh penalties for on field violence, following two separate occasions of serious violence in the latest season.

While it may seem obvious that players should not be subject to serious harm when playing sport, the reality is that determining what constitutes a criminal assault and what is just ‘part of the game’ can be difficult.


What is assault?

Assault is the intentional or reckless infliction of force on the body of another person, without their consent. The nature of a criminal charge often depends on the level of harm suffered by the victim.

Assault in sports is unfortunately a somewhat common occurrence due to the amount of people who take sports seriously as emotions can alter quickly due to the change of circumstances regarding their performance in a game.

Are the rules of the game relevant?

Breaching a rule may show that the player was reckless in inflicting the harm. For example, a player who spear tackles an opponent in a game of rugby may be found to have been reckless, because they knew that such a tackle was against the rules as it carries a risk of harm to the person being tackled.

However, breaking a rule of a sporting code does not necessarily mean someone will be guilty of criminal assault – a certain level of rule breaking is expected in every sport.

The rules of a game cannot make something that is illegal, legal. This is where criminal law can come into sports. Combat sports such as boxing raise difficulties with this rule. However, participants in these sports are said to have given their full consent to engage in an activity with a high risk of harm, and therefore criminal liability will usually not arise.

The type of sport

Clearly, you would be more likely to expect to be hurt by another player in a game of rugby league, than you would be in tennis.

The part of the game in which the violence occurs and whether the contact is ‘on the ball’

Contact with another player while in contest for the ball (for example, a tackle in rugby league) is likely and expected, while ‘off the ball’ incidents (such as hitting another player while the ball is at the other end of the field) are less likely to be tolerated.

The level and character of the contact

For example, a player might expect to be pushed in a contest for the ball during a game of soccer, but they do not expect this contact to extend to a punch in the face.

Whether the violence is spontaneous or if it is premeditated

If the contact with the other player appears to be premeditated, it is more likely that a criminal charge will follow, because it can demonstrate an intent to harm. Whether the player was provoked may also be relevant.

Notably, players are never deemed to have consented to acts that are deliberate, intentional, reckless and which result in serious harm, or to acts that aren’t done in the legitimate skill or pursuit of the game.

If you have been charged with assault, you can contact the team at Hamilton Janke Lawyers 24/7 by calling 4038 1666.

Written By
James Janke
James Janke

James Janke is founding partner at Hamilton Janke Lawyers, and has more then decade of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. Admitted to both the Supreme Court of New South Wales and High Court of Australia

Reviewed By
Drew Hamilton
Drew Hamilton

Drew Hamilton is founding partner at Hamilton Janke Lawyers. Admitted to the Supreme Court of New South Wales as a Solicitor and also listed on the High Court of Australia register.