If You King-Hit Someone On A Footy Field Why Don't You End Up In Court?

If an act of violence occurs within the parameters of playing the game it's not illegal.

When there's a brawl between teams or fisticuffs on a football field often the worst the instigator faces is suspension from playing the game. But if that same offense occurred on a street or in a park the aggressor could face criminal charges.

In early August, West Coast Eagles midfielder Andrew Gaff punched Fremantle's Andrew Brayshaw in the face and broke his jaw during an AFL match. Brayshaw was 100 metres off the ball when he was hit.  Gaff was handed an eight-week suspension while the 18-year-old Brayshaw recovered from his injuries in hospital.

So why aren't sportspeople liable for charges under the law regardless of whether an offence was committed on a sports field or not?

Well, technically they are legally liable, but it's a bit more complicated than that.

Risk of injury is an implied part of playing sport. Image: Getty Images.
Injuries Are An Assumed Part Of Sport

"Essentially, when players participate in the sport there is an implied consent in relation to the risk of injury," Faba Rezae, senior lawyer at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, told ten daily. 

"The law essentially states that if it [an offense] was during the commission of the game, towards the actual objective of the game, and if it is within the rules and parameters of the sport, then there is no illegal act happening."

Let's use rugby as an example.

If a player is injured when another player is making a tackle or running for the ball, then no laws are broken because it is part of the assumed risk associated with playing the game. If a player punched someone outside of the play due to external factors like anger then, legally speaking, criminal charges could be brought against them.

"It is normally taken to the court in extreme cases ... even if they acted outside the parameters of the sport a lot of the time they don’t act on it in practice in terms of bringing charges against them unless it is an extreme case," Rezae said.

"If it is not an extreme case they just deal with it in the sport tribunal."

Australia vs. Philippines Basketball Game Ends In All In Brawl
Violence Ingrained In Australian Sport Culture

Rezae said that there are a number of reasons why convictions for on-field conduct are so rare. He says that most of the time violence is dealt with at the sport's tribunal instead of being brought before a court.

"You don’t often see criminal proceedings brought against them [offenders] and it is a bit ingrained in the sporting culture -- you know people start cheering when there is a fight going on," Rezae said. 

"Because it is ingrained in the sporting culture it is very unlikely. I mean legally speaking, yes, it’s illegal when they take that extra step and they act out of the rules but in practice it is [being taken to court] not as common."

While violence may be part of sport culture, sport has been part of the Australian culture for many years.

Brian Wenn highlights in his paper 'Violence in sport' that sport is a quintessential part of being Australian.

Sport is part of Australia culture and violence is part of sports culture. Image: Getty Images.

"Sport is a basic feature of Australian culture," he wrote.

"Sport touches virtually every household in Australia. It has the capacity to unite families, to cross class barriers and to surpass politics! Similarly, any negative aspects of sport, such as violence, have the potential to affect many people."

From a legal perspective, Rezae says that on-field violence happens, but should not be excused.

"But when the nature or the level of violence goes beyond those rules or parameters of the game it is potentially illegal and it is not to be excused just because it was in the physical context of the sport," Rezae said.