'Law of the land does not end at the touchline': More sports disputes are ending up in court, John David Williams reports

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The Independent Online
AS THE latest Premiership clash is played out in the High Court, many now accept that litigation is as valid a means for settling a sporting dispute as a penalty shoot-out.

Edward Grayson, a barrister and author of Sport and the Law, said that sportsmen and women are increasingly turning to the courts for redress.

'They are more aware of their rights. The law of the land does not end at the touchline or the boundary and people don't see why they should have their careers cut short by some thug who deserves to be locked up.'

The disciplinary procedures of the various sports' governing bodies may punish offenders but they rarely compensate victims. 'When Paul Davis of Arsenal punched Southampton's Glenn Cockerill in full view of the television cameras, the FA banned him for nine games and fined him pounds 3,000. And who got the money - Cockerill? No, not a bean of it.'

Cockerill did not initiate proceedings. 'There was this culture in sport then that it wasn't the done thing, old boy, to bring the law into sport. Not any longer.'

In 1988, the Rangers and Scotland star Ian Durrant began a pounds 2m civil action against the former Aberdeen player Neil Simpson after a tackle which severed his cruciate ligaments.

Durrant lost three years of his playing career and returned a significantly less potent force. On the eve of a six-day hearing last year, the Rangers man accepted a pounds 250,000 out-of-court settlement.

Danny Thomas, the former Spurs and England right-back, similarly settled out of court when his career was ended prematurely after a challenge from Gavin Maguire, then of Queen's Park Rangers. Gary Mabbutt, another Spurs and England player, has still not ruled out civil action for the shattered cheekbone and eye socket he suffered at the elbow of the Wimbledon striker John Fashanu last November.

In rugby union, Philip de Glanville was nearly blinded when an All Black stamped on the Bath centre's head as he lay on the ground during a tour match last autumn. Though again captured on film, the offender escaped with nothing more than a ticking off from his management.

Concern over these kinds of injuries prompted the Law Commission to call on the Government to introduce tougher laws to penalise violence in sport.

The commission said in February that there may be a case for making reckless as well as intentional injury in sport a criminal offence. The consultation period ends next month.

(Photographs omitted)