Sport Comment: Sure way to court trouble

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ONCE AGAIN, rugby union is in danger of finding itself on the wrong side of the law. Following the brawl that marred the beginning of last weekend's international between Wales and Scotland, an Edinburgh solicitor, Magnus Moody, has urged the chief constable of the South Wales police to investigate a charge of assault against Garin Jenkins, who is alleged to have made an unprovoked attack on Derek Turnbull.

How the chief constable will respond to these urgings remains to be seen; in a sense, his response matters less than the sport's response to Mr Moody. Should his action be applauded or condemned? It is certainly easy to understand: anyone who loves rugby must deplore the damage inflicted on the game's image by such incidents; and, since the sport's officials, from the match referee, Patrick Robin, to the Welsh Rugby Union, have done nothing about it, who can blame a public-spirited fan from taking the law into his own hands?

Yet Mr Moody should be blamed, none the less. Sport becomes involved with the law at its peril. You have only to watch Katrin Krabbe tormenting the German athletics authorities to see what happens when lawyers usurp the authority of a sport's governing body. Commentators (including this newspaper) have been warning for years that encroachment by lawyers must be the inevitable consequence of such authorities ducking their responsibilities - as rugby's authorities have manifestly done over the issue of violence on the field.

Yet this latest development, though predictable, sets a worrying precedent. How much longer will it now be, for example, before spectators begin to take legal action against referees for disputed decisions? A gambler who had bet, as many gamblers now do, on the total number of points scored in the Cardiff match would have had a good case for bringing a civil action against M Robin for his manifestly wrong decision to disallow Gregor Townsend's drop goal.

If it comes to that, might not the same gambler bring an action against Gavin Hastings, for missing the subsequent simple penalty? And what if such a decision - or miss - had cost Scotland a match, or a championship, with adverse financial consequences for players? Such speculations seem absurd; but when has the law worried about absurdity?

The fact is that any sport which values its sanity must seek solutions to its problems which do not involve the law- courts. Rugby's traditional solution has always been to say: this is a tough sport - if you can't take it, don't play. This attitude is usually condemned, rightly, as complacent. But there is a grain of sanity in it. The rugby authorities should act to contain violence on the field, urgently. In the meantime, public-spirited fans should remember that there are worse things in life than a few ill-directed punches from a Welsh hooker.