When Sports Violence Collides With the Criminal Code

An interesting and often controversial topic is the overlap of the criminal law with sports violence.  MMA is not immune from this analysis as there is nothing that keeps the Criminal Code assault provisions from being triggered in appropriate circumstances.  In cases of PED abuse and intentional post bout contact, criminal prosecution is not out of the question in Canadian MMA.

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba dealing with the topic of criminal assault in sports.  While the decision dealt with soccer, not MMA, there are some broad legal principles discussed that are of value.  In this week’s case (R v. Adamiec) the Defendant was involved in a “grotty and combative” soccer game that was “marred by unsportsmanlike conduct and rough play“.  While going after a loose ball the opposing goalie “dove towards the ball, grabbing it (and the Defendant’s) leg at the same time.  (the Defendant) stumbled and attempted to get his foot out of the (goalie’s) grasp by kicking.”  Once freed the Defendant fell backwards and while falling he “continued kicking” the goalie.  This resulted in “serious long lasting injuries” to the goalie’s neck and jaw.

The Defendant was criminally prosecuted for assault and convicted at trial.  The Court of Queen’s bench overturned the conviction noting that the incident occurred “in very close proximity of play” coupled with the fact that the deed was not “gravely” beyond the sport’s playing culture.  In addressing the issue of criminal assault in contact sports the Court provided the following general comments:

[27] Because of the social utility of sports… the application of the
criminal law is adjusted in the sporting context. The common law accepts that
players of organized contact sports implicitly consent to some forms of
intentional contact against them, and the risk of injury that, outside the sporting
arena, would otherwise constitute the crime of assault. In R. v. Brown, [1993]
2 W.L.R. 556 at 592-93 (H.L.), Lord Mustill stated:
Some sports, such as the various codes of football, have
deliberate bodily contact as an essential element. They lie at a mid-point
between fighting, where the participant knows that his opponent will try
to harm him, and the milder sports where there is at most an
acknowledgement that someone may be accidentally hurt. In the contact
sports each player knows and by taking part agrees that an opponent
may from time to time inflict upon his body (for example by a rugby
tackle) what would otherwise be a painful battery. By taking part he also
assumes the risk that the deliberate contact may have unintended
effects, conceivably of sufficient severity to amount to grievous bodily
harm. But he does not agree that this more serious kind of injury may be
inflicted deliberately.
[28] Therefore, for the purpose of applying the legal principle of consent, the
general rule that a person cannot consent to serious harm that is intended and
caused is subject to exception, if the activity in question engaged in has
“significant social value”…

[33] The application of force by an athlete in compliance with the rules of a
particular sport during play, while not conclusive for the purpose of the criminal
law, is firm indication that the conduct is not criminal. See R. v. Bradshaw
(1878), 14 Cox C.C. 83 at 85 (Assize Ct.), Barnes at p. 914, and Cey at p. 490.
[34] In contrast, extreme violence on the sports field away from play (i.e. “off
the ball”) contrary to the rules of a particular sport has resulted in successful
prosecutions for assault related crimes. Negating consent to contact in such

situations is less controversial as the facts typically speak for themselves and cry

out for the intervention of the criminal law. For example: Ferguson v.

Normand, [1995] SCCR 770 (head butt of an opposing player prior to a free
kick in a professional soccer game in Scotland); McSorley (slash to head of an
opposing player from behind, away from play in a professional hockey game); R.
v. Mayer (1985), 41 Man. R. (2d) 73 (Prov. Ct.) (sucker punch to player with his
back turned during a break from a junior hockey game). See John Barnes,
Sports and the Law in Canada, 3d ed. (Markham, Ont.: Butterworths Canada
Ltd., 1996) at 255, and Gardiner, Sports Law at p. 517.

The full judgement can be found here: R v Adamiec Consent to Harm

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