Sport brings together people of different backgrounds and cultures from all over the world and puts them on a level playing field where anything can happen, within the rules of the game. When emotions are running high, and tackles are being made any slight misjudgement can cause serious injury.
During the match the referee is in control of the players and if a bad challenge is made, on or off the ball, then it is up to him whether or not to punish the culprit. On 25th June 2014, during the biggest sporting competition in the world, the FIFA World Cup, Luis Suarez appeared to bite one of his opposition, in an off the ball incident, which was seen but not punished by the referee.
If you play in a contact sport then you acknowledge that by playing you are giving your consent to any injury that may occur. The fact that most sports have their own disciplinary panels means that in the majority of cases there is not only no need for criminal proceedings, but it is undesirable that there should be any. Conduct outside the rules of the game is always expected to occur in the heat of the moment, and even if a warning or sending off is given, it may not reach the required threshold for it to be a criminal assault. To be considered as criminal the conduct must be sufficiently grave enough to be categorised.
The case of Rv Barnes (2004) concerned an amateur football match the defendant tackled another player who as a result sustained a serious leg injury. At the defendants trial for the offence of unlawfully and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily, the Crown contended that the injury had been caused by his recklessness. The defendant argued that his tackle had been a fair challenge during play, and the injury was an accident. In his summary the judge made it clear that for the defendant to be found guilty, the prosecution would have to prove that what had happened was not done by way of ‘legitimate sport’. The prosecutions case was that the defendant’s action was so reckless that it could not have been in legitimate sport and so was an assault. After a four day trial he was convicted by a majority verdict of unlawfully and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm. He was then sentenced to 240 hours of community service and ordered to pay the compensation of £2,609 to the victim. Following this an appeal from the defence was granted successful on the grounds that the judge failed to explain to the jury what was meant by the term ‘legitimate sport’ and therefore meant that the judge’s summing-up was inadequate.
If the Uruguay international, Suarez, had bitten Georgio Chiellini in the street then it would have been seen as assault, and if he had been prosecuted and sentenced in England, then he would probably have to take part in between 180 and 240 hours of community service.
He does have form for this, and has bitten two people before. As he clearly hasn’t learnt from the previous incidents he would probably be facing an imprisonment of a couple of weeks. But as he was playing a game of football at the time of all three incidents, he was banned from all football related things for four months along with the next 9 Uruguay matches, in the most recent case.
Both Suarez and the defendant in the other case have been accused of violent and unnecessary play, but a few things make the conduct completely different in their own ways. Luis Suarez may have made a move to bite another player, off the ball, and didn’t receive the correct punishment from the referee but he was punished greatly after the match by the worldwide football governing body FIFA. However, the defendant made a sliding challenge to win the ball. The laws state that challenges outside the laws of the game may occur, which is why he was given a red card and told to leave the field of play. He didn’t try to injure the player unlike Suarez and was therefore not punished anywhere near severely.