Court lifts rugby player's suspension

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The Independent Online
The Ebbw Vale rugby union player, Mark Jones, yesterday won a High Court injunction to have his suspension for fighting lifted, allowing him to continue playing, until such time as his appeal against the ban has been heard. The judge's ruling to overturn a sports body's decision marks a historic change in the attitude of the courts to issues regarding the way sport is run.

Mrs Justice Ebsworth granted the injunction, a decision which legal experts said could open the floodgates to legal challenges of the decisions of referees and umpires.

Jones, a 16-stone forward who has been capped for Wales in both the union and league game, had claimed that his four-week suspension, imposed by the Welsh Rugby Union's disciplinary committee after he was sent off in a game against Swansea, was "unfair".

He can now carry on playing until an appeal over the committee's decision is completed - either by an internal hearing or, if that fails, at a full trial of the issue at the High Court.

The judge said sporting decisions had for years been made from "wet and windy" touchlines but the new professional game meant that those decisions now affected "many people who earn a living".

She said it was now "naive" to contend - as it has been until recently - that the decisions of disciplinary committees could not be challenged because the sanctions imposed now had "economic results" on those affected.

A senior lawyer said previous legal challenges in the High Court had been thrown out because judges had ruled they could not intervene in the decision of a sporting organisation because they had no status in law.