There are greater pressures on referees as a result of liability issues that can arise in matches such as serious injury or an on-pitch incident, a senior sports law solicitor has warned.
Edward Evans was speaking at a Law Society conference and said “referees are being put in the spotlight”, particularly because of incidents in which players could be “acting outside the rules of the game”.
In one case last year, a club player successfully appealed a two-year sentence handed down for assault causing harm against an opponent after showing how the sentencing judge had operated on the injured party’s version of events rather than the referee’s report.
Mr Evans, who is partner and head of Beauchamps Sports Law Unit in Dublin, said referee reports were “grounding pieces for the disciplinary process” and games administration, yet in cases where issues of liability arose, a judge might well attach more value to a referee’s report of a match.
“It does put the referee more and more in the spotlight,” he said, also referring to cases in which the management of a match might be claimed to have contributed to a player’s injury. “That is a difficulty.”
Mr Evans also said there was scope for law firms around the country to engage more with sports clubs in areas such as helping to draft social media protocols and codes of conduct.
“Local club level is potentially where there is a bit of a gap,” he said, referring to higher profile cases such as the suspension handed down in 2013 to Irish cricketer John Mooney after he tweeted comments about former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, having breached Cricket Ireland’s code of conduct.
Mr Evans said this area, along with the area of gambling and corruption and personal injuries, could be open to legal oversight.
On the issue of concussion, he said while it was primarily a policy and medical area, the law could get involved.
“There is huge pressure on doctors and the sideline to get the guy back on the field,” he said of a scenario where someone has received a blow to the head, adding that this was “unhealthy” and opening up the idea of independent medical assessment separate from team doctors.
The NFL in the US has already made a settlement with a number of former players due to acquired brain injury.
Figures also showed that it was not just an issue for rugby, as a poll of 150 GAA players last year found 54% of them had reported suffering a concussion during a game, with more than half playing on even though many could not remember anything about the match afterward.
He asked whether it was to the association, the club, team manager or doctor on whom liability fell, adding that concussion management policies needed to be part of every rule book.
Mr Evans also made reference to the recent tragic death of MMA fighter Joao Carvalho, claiming it was likely to lead to increased regulation of the sport which he said was currently more of a “private enterprise”.
He also cited figures indicating the positive role of sport in the community, including the 49% drop in Garda call-outs in the Dublin areas of Ballymun and Finglas during the six weeks of the FAI’s midnight leagues.
He also outlined the huge role of sport in the Irish economy, not least the increased spend of ‘sports tourists’ such as those coming to Ireland to play golf.
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