2012 Sports Injuries on...


Not to be cited without the author’s permission



Ari-Matti Nuutila




1.      Where is Sports Law going?


Where does sports law belong in the legal system? Similar questions are raised, inter alia, on medical law, media law, information law and attorney law. Sports law is a walkthrough of the legal issues arising from sports. Sports law does not have clear lines. It is not based on a specific field of law or a particular set of legal norms. It does not have its own general doctrines or principles of law. Instead, sports law covers various legal problems associated with sports activity.

The autonomy of sports has been emphasized for a long time. It has been suggested that sports is not subject to formal legal regulation, but instead belongs to the free-time pursuits of people and autonomy of associative areas. Sports have its own rules for behavior, for disciplinary procedures and for sanctions. The legal system determines the order of no more than broad frames of what may and may not be done in sports. Rules in sports are ethical rules set, applied and controlled by the sports business. The Constitution and human rights conventions guarantee the freedom of association, on the basis on which we can talk about the autonomy of sport.

However, sport has become a legal issue. What traditionally was seen as a case of ethical rules of sports is nowadays understood more and more often as a legal case. Sport has been commercialized and become professional business. Labor law, tax law and commercial law cannot be confined outside the sports. European Union law does not anymore make a distinction between sports and other entertainment industries. The Courts deal all the time with more and more cases and conflicts related to athletes' status and rights in the sports club.

The most famous national Court decisions are undoubtedly the ones where the athlete has required the annulment of competition prohibition ordered by national sports committees. The athlete's contract of employment has been evaluated several times in the Nordic Courts. The Bosman judgment from the European Court of Justice had a significant impact on the legality of the transfer payment system in football. The athlete's social security depends on, inter alia, whether his remuneration is salary or other financial support. The Nordic countries have had to enact laws on the athlete's pension rights and health insurance. Taxation of salary from sports has been decided a couple of times in Finland and Sweden in the Supreme Courts.

To put the issue in a legal theory context, sports law concerns the relationship between statutory law and soft law. Legal theory uses as examples lex mercatoria, lex digitalis and lex sportia to describe how a field of life is governed with general laws (e.g. contract law), but it is complemented with special regulations of private law (e.g. in Finland Act on Social Security in Sports) and, ultimately, defined in a private agreement between an athlete and his club, association or employer. The regulation is analogical to industrial self-regulation and ethical standards, and industrial Boards of Corporate Governance.

It is questionable how far the autonomy of sport can be restricted by law. How far can we simply count on sport “fair play” rule, and when is the legislature in need and authorized to intervene in the autonomy of association activity? The question is not usually set in this form and, for example, Sweden has banned professional boxing with law, helmet is compulsory in many species of sport, composite hockey sticks are prohibited on junior level, competition outfits may be regulated, equality requirements can be extended to the association activities, etc. I think, however, that more important than the "right boundaries" of legislation is to understand, that also ethical norms inside sport are legal in nature.

Self-regulation requires always institutional support. Self-regulation needs to be effective in order to be compelling and in order to be regulations instead of recommendations. In sports, in particular, being denied the right to compete is by far more important to the athlete than the legal consequences or the penalty may ever be.

In addition, the sport itself is a vague concept. The first degree is play, with the rules of playing. The second is the degree of fitness and recreational sports. The third step is a competitive sport, to which national and international competition rules and the rules of the sports are applied. The fourth stage is a professional sport. Legal regulations on commercial activities are applied as well. Amateur rules have repealed gradually. The symbolic benchmark of the end of amateur sport is considered to be the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and USA Basketball national team, Dream Team.

Sports law has developed in many directions. One of the most significant changes is the fact that fundamental rights are increasingly involved in legal issues of sport. Fundamental and human rights are the cohesive force of the legal system. They crystallize the principles and rules to be followed, increasingly, also in areas where basic human rights were not discussed at all 20 years ago.

For example, the requirement of a fair trial and access to court has become topical in sport only in recent years. International federation rules cannot prevent the athlete’s access to a court if he considers that, e.g., his ban to compete has not been handled properly. The basic principles of a fair trial apply also to disciplinary procedures insides sport.

In some cases, one has tried to restrict the athlete's freedom of expression with a contract. Prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, some countries attempted to make agreements with the athletes that they would not take part in protests against the Chinese Government.

The choosing of athletes to important competitions is beginning to become a judicial issue of equality as a human right. If a sporting organization favors someone on his non-athletic merits, there is a legal, not only an ethical problem of internal union to be solved.

Doping cases highlight several issues of fundamental and human rights of the athlete. The athlete’s obligation to indicate his location under the training period, the obligation to submit to blood and urine tests without prior notice and the obligation to report his own health status concerns the privacy of the athlete. Outside of sports such coercive measures would obviously have to be based on law and could not be used on contractual basis.

Disciplinary procedure in doping cases is a legal procedure and it should follow the basic fair trial standards. The suspect shall have the right to counsel, the suspect shall be presumed innocent, etc. Doping disciplinary penalties are harsh. Competition ban for several years or for life means the disqualification of the athlete from his profession. In many cases, non-competition means the end of a sporting careers. In general criminal law, a corresponding penalty would be considered exceptionally harsh.


2.      Criminal liability for bodily injury


Criminal justice has come to sports fields. Ethical fair play means that the athlete should try to the best performance, a compromise game is not allowed, the athlete may not bet on his own performance, performance cannot be artificially improved with doping, improper violence is prohibited, sexual harassment is forbidden, the opposite party must be respected, and the judge is intact. As already observed from the list, each element of Fair Play has been on the agenda of criminal law, when the athletes or the others have been accused of assault, causing personal injury, fraud, drug offenses, defamation, etc. The amount of cases seems to be increasing.

Sport has never been a “white spot” on the criminal justice map. Traditionally the Courts have dealt with two kinds of cases. The first type of cases concerns sports violence. The other type of cases deals with the punishment and compensation of damages, if a spectator in the audience gets injured. This responsibility belongs usually to the organizer of the event or owner of the sports field.

This article aims to briefly outline the situations of criminal liability on personal injuries connected to sports events. It differs from previous articles on the issue in that the discussion is not limited to the traditional case of violence between two athletes. At least the following kinds of responsibility are possible in sport.

The diagram presents only examples. Obviously, several persons can be liable of damages in one single case.


Criminal responsibility problems connected to sports injuries




Criminal responsibility of…

The athlete causes bodily harm to…

… the athlete

… organizer of the event or alike

… the coach, team manager or alike

… another athlete

Chapter 3: a) Ice hockey player beats up his opponent: b) Rally co-driver dies in a crash.

Chapter 5: Trotting horses collide with each other when the lights suddenly go out on the track. Drivers are injured.

Chapter 4: The coach tells the player to beat up the player of the opposing team.

… himself


Chapter 5: A ski jumper hits a snow scooter forgotten to the landing slope and dies.

Chapter 4: Rally driver is provided with a faulty car. The driver gets injured in an accident.

…  a spectator

Chapter 6: The ice hockey player triggers the puck intentionally to the audience. A spectator gets injured.

Chapter 6: Rally car crashes into the audience. A spectator dies due to shortcomings on safety arrangements.

Chapter 6: As above, but a spectator is injured in the rally accident.



3.      An athlete causes damage to another athlete


In the majority of sports, athletes are responsible for violence between each other in exactly the same way as you are responsible for violence elsewhere. A baseball game that ends in a punch is not a special problem for criminal law. In some sports, especially in some team sports and martial arts, it is permitted to access the other party in a way that would normally be considered a criminal offense. In some sports violence belongs to the nature of the sport (boxing, wrestling and some of the other martial arts), in a part of other sports violence is a side effect of the sports that must be taken into account (hockey, soccer and other ball games that allows tackles).

Even in the latter sport that allows violence to some extent, one can apply any criminal law provisions that protect life and health. If the result has been an athlete’s death, the offense is deemed to be negligent causing of another’s death, manslaughter or even murder. If the result is an injury or illness, the perpetrator can be convicted of negligent causing of bodily harm or petty, regular or aggravated assault. Negligent causing of minor injuries or illnesses is not punishable.

The problem is, why and under what conditions violence is permissible in the sports, the rules of which allow physical contact. The traditional answer has been the athlete’s consent. The idea is that the athlete agrees that his physical integrity is violated when he comes to the sports arena. Boxer who enters the ring and ice hockey player who slips on the ice gives at the same time his consent to the damages of the sport. Modern criminal law does not any more use this justification to allow violence in sports.

The first problem is that the athlete does not agree with the final injury, but usually wants (and expects) to avoid getting hurt. The athlete only exposes himself voluntarily to the risks of the sport, not actual injuries or illnesses. Another problem relates to non-voluntary port. For example, sport in the military and the school would in principle be completely outside of the consent doctrine. Everyone would be liable without limitation of all damages you have caused in the sport, although you would have been engaging in sports under the sport's rules. The third problem is that the consent doctrine does not apply if damage is serious or if the accident results in someone's death. We cannot agree on a valid way to our own killing - whether it concerns intentional or negligent infliction of death. Tackling in hockey, which leads to paralysis or other serious injuries to the victim would then always be an offense even if tackling would have followed ice hockey’s own rules.

The internal rules of the sport have been considered an acceptable standard of good behavior. It is natural to think that the prohibited risk-taking of another's life and health begins, for example, in hockey when you start breaking the sport's rules in an unusual way which is not part of the sport's nature. Violence associated with the sport's nature falls outside the boundaries of criminal law regardless of the severity of injuries. The literature talks about the same thing when you put the limit on "normal and natural irregularities." We speak here not only on an ad hoc discharge due to a defense of justification, but about the fulfilling the definitional elements of a crime. We talk about the limits of criminal law within which risk taking is allowed regardless of unforeseen (but statistically predictable) consequences.

Hockey violence has been estimated in Finland in two Supreme Court precedents. In case KKO 1996:74 a hockey player had 2-3 seconds after the referee had whistled the hockey game, beaten with hockey stick an opponent who had as a result lost three teeth. Hockey player was considered to have caused the damage intentionally, as he had after an alarm sufficient time to stop playing, and he must have realized that such damage would probably result. He was sentenced to a fine for assault. The explanatory memorandum states that "by participating in the game a player may also be deemed to have accepted the fact that he can get during the game various, mostly minor, injuries that may result from irregular acts". Criminal behavior, therefore, requires that the behavior "apparently falls outside normal events in the game.”

Also precedent KKO 1997:129 from Finland deals with violence in hockey. A played offensive and rushed to defendant B’s back with his stick. A hit B with a transverse stick to the neck so that B had been unconscious for about 20 minutes and got a concussion and other injuries. A's team had six players against B's team’s four players on the ice. The Finnish Supreme Court held that A's behavior clearly exceeded that what was acceptable in a normal game situation, because of its intensity. A was convicted for assault.

These cases clearly illustrate two essential criteria. First of all, if violence is used after the game is suspended (the game has been stopped by the referee or the period has already ended), violence means often criminal assault, even though the violence had its roots in the preceding excited game situation. Secondly, even if violence is exerted during the game, one must ask if violence served the game's end. If you use violence against an ice hockey player who does not have the puck or who otherwise is not in “playing position”, the offense of assault can be met easily.

In a Swedish Court of Appeal case (RH 1995:23) a football game was treated equally. A had intentionally assigned to B a powerful punch in the face, resulting in damages to B’s face and some time lying dazed on the field. The courts noted that already by participating in sports the football players have to some extent agreed to some degree of violence. In football there is great inherent risk that, e.g., the opponent kicks you in an inappropriate manner. In addition, the atmosphere during games is often aroused. These conditions mean that the responsibility for criminal acts in such contexts should only be considered in the case of a major violation.

Violence against the person under such rule based sports like football, when both the games and atmosphere will be intense, “justifies tolerant use of criminal law, especially when the issue is about violence between players”. Another factor is that the violence is usually prosecuted disciplinary within the sport itself, as also was the case here. Such tolerance characterizes criminal justice, both at criminal proceedings, the applicable offences and the sentencing practices.

In the football case such tolerance had obviously ended as the referee had stopped the game. The Court argued, that “a corresponding limit – simple and reasonable both to appoint and to understand – can be drawn where the game is blown off”. It seems to only have been exceptional in the preceding judicial practice. The Court wanted to stress the limit and judged the accused to imprisonment.

Intentionality can face particular problems, since violence is exercised often in an excited and provoked state of mind. Some academic writers have particularly in the U.S. also held that if the athlete has had malicious intent, then his deeds should never be allowed. This question has nearly no practical significance, as almost all rules of sports forbid deliberate harming of the other party. This even applies to professional boxing.

In some sports and hobbies the members of a team take common and shared risks which can lead to that a member of a team is injured or dies partly because of negligence of another team member. E.g. a rally team consists of the rally driver and the co-driver who reads the map and the “notes”. A tour to a glacier takes place in a group where all have their functions. Man dives into deep ocean and in caves in groups where one monitors the others and provides background support. Common to all these sports and hobbies is that the danger – even danger of life – is an essential element of the entire operation. This question has come into the criminal justice debate only in the 1990s and 2000s, especially in Germany under the title "Objektive Zurechnung" and in the Nordic countries as “gärningsculpa”.

Common risk-taking can lead to discharge responsibility of rally driver if driving leads to crash where the map reader dies. The death of the team member must, however, be a result of exactly the risk that you have agreed on and not a result of additional risk of rally driver himself. Drivers need to keep within the boundaries of the common risk taking, in this case the pre-written "notes" to the rally driving. In addition, map reader must perceive the risks properly and expose himself to these risks voluntarily for real.

In the literature it has also been required that the risks may not be in the pre-assessment so serious that it is not about sports but rather “collective suicide”. We cannot accept extremely serious risks even in team sports. The so-called Russian roulette is not a case of common risk-taking which would free from criminal liability the one who survives. In addition, central is here (as in ice hockey and other sports) also, how recklessly the rules of the hobby or sports have been broken. Even if it were jointly and voluntarily decided not to follow the branch rules and even if prudential rules would be partly unwritten and based only on the ways and customs, breaking of rules must be acceptable in its entirety. On the other hand, if one has not violated clearly against sports own rules, criminal responsibility should be considered only in exceptional cases.

A Finnish case in the Supreme Court concerned rally driving (KKO 1982 II 21). The Supreme Court dismissed the indictment on negligent causing of death after the rally driver had been driving a crash and his map reader had died. The driver had not been proven to have set aside such attention as could be required from him in competitive circumstances. The car had been racing in a closed gravel road stretch, and the course did not have speed limits. Map reader had pre-planned the driving to the "notes" that the driver had followed.

The Supreme Court also argued that the driver, map reader and the car was equipped with adequate protective equipment, map reader was experienced and fully aware of the risks and that both the driver and the map reader were equally exposed to risks. The Supreme Court also considered that a complete indifference to the map reader's life and health possibly would have been enough for the driver’s criminal liability.

One can discuss other similar situations in a similar way. Dangerous climbing, glacier trekking, mountain climbing or other "survival games" may result in a situation where a member of the group must be left to his own fate. If the risks of injuries were not initially significant, if venturing is conscious and voluntary, and if the hobby’s internal rules are followed at least approximately, liability for causing someone’s’ death comes hardly in question.

This situation is illustrated also by the Finnish case from the Supreme Court KKO 1997:73. Members of Finnish Divers’ Federation participated in cave diving. A diver drowned after he had gone astray from the rest of the group in the dark and muddy water. The group had chosen a responsible leader to exercise in accordance with Finnish Divers’ Federation’s rules. He had neglected to review and supervise in advance all the divers, had dived himself without having a substitute leader on the ground, had allowed the dive too deep and failed to check that security rope was constantly used.

The safety regulations were not based on law or authority supervisions or recommendations. The responsibility of the leader was based only on the Federation’s internal rules. The hobby was rather dangerous; and the deceased took part in it voluntarily and with full knowledge of the risks. The diver was quite experienced, although he did not have enough experience of diving in caves. The Supreme Court held that the diver had himself consciously violated safety rules and common safety practices. The prosecution against the leader for causing someone’s death was dismissed.


4.      A coach, a team manager or alike causes damage to an athlete


The trainer, coach, or other persons may also be responsible for sports injuries. In the extreme case we talk about incitement or participation if, for example, if an ice hockey team's coach encourages his player to beat up a player in the opposing team to hospital. In this case, the coach is responsible besides the hockey player who actually committed the assault.

On the other hand, the question is more difficult where the liability would be based on negligence to protect your own athletes. Occupational safety and health legislation does not apply fully in sports, and the athlete is not protected in the same way as a normal employee would be to get a safe working environment. If the case KKO 1997:73 (described above) would have occurred in such a way that the city's rescue station would have sent divers in deep water in violation of safety rules, the employer's representative would have been sentenced to punishment, and the employer would possibly have been sentenced to corporate fines. The employee's own conscious risk-taking does not exclude the liability of the employer. The employees consent to extraordinary risks is irrelevant to the employer’s criminal responsibility.

To simply let an adult athlete take conscious and voluntary risk of his health and life is not punishable. If an athlete chooses to take risks on his own health conscious and voluntary, the coach and the employers' organization are not responsible for possible damage to health. For example, if the coach allows the use of doping substances and even delivers substances to the athlete, he is not responsible for personal injuries, but rather only to the smuggling and narcotics offenses.

The trainer, coach or other persons may be liable for personal injury if the athlete is given inadequate sporting equipment. For example, if the rally car's brakes are defective, and this leads to an accident, there is no problem in assessing criminal liability to the person who is in charge of the rally cars within the rally team.

In these situations it may be necessary to use in future criminal liability of legal persons to a greater extent. In Finland, Sweden and Denmark, a sports club can, in principle, be sentenced to fines, if the business has been managed in an unprofessional manner that has led to the athlete's injury. Fines have been too small to affect the operators and sports clubs responsibility has not been examined in the courts at all.


5.      The organizer or alike causes damage to an athlete


Negligent arrangement of sports competitions can lead to criminal liability if negligence has contributed to the athlete's injury. Supreme Court precedent is about law on damages, but the same principles apply also to criminal liability. The liability is similar to the responsibility of the owner of the property or building which contributes to damages.

The organizer is obliged to ensure that the stadium is safe enough for the athletes and the public. Legislation on the arrangement of public events is clear. Organizers must take measures beforehand to prevent foreseeable damage. If the event is particularly unsafe (e.g. motorsport), the organizer must take care of fire safety and emergency services. The police may issue further regulations on the safety or even ban the whole event.

In particular, the terms of the respective sports federations’ security policies have to be followed. Most national and international sports federations have their own rules on safety at sports grounds. In addition, one must take into account the usual and acceptable custom in the entertainment industry of the foreseeability of harm. One must ask, how the other organizers take care of safety and if this level can be regarded as sufficient. The usual standards are not binding on the court, but they are of fundamental importance for the court practice.

Liability for damage caused to the athlete has been discussed especially in the Finnish Supreme Court regarding skiing damages. In the case KKO 1975 II 30 a skier had hit his head into an iron bar which was at the height of 165 cm. The rod position was not considered to have been foreseeable to the skier and the organizer's liability could not be reduced by a contract clause under which participation in skiing happened at your own risk.

In several cases the Court has adjusted the compensation due the injured person's own negligence. In the case KKO 1992:141 a slalom skier had fallen and injured himself on the road from a paid ski lift. Ski lift operator was ordered to pay damages, when it could not prove that the lift's safety had been sufficiently taken into account. Amount of compensation was reduced, because the injured and his friend were in part responsible for the accident.

The public paid particular attention to the case KKO 1982 II 107 from the Finnish Supreme Court. A German ski jumper crashed in Lahti on a snow scooter that had been left on the runway. Ski jumper later died of his injuries. Liability was imposed on the leader of the jump hill renovations, the leader of the ski jumping race and their employers (City of Lahti and the ski association).

Injuries in recreational activities are assessed in much the same way. The case KKO 1994:1 treated physical education in school. The students had been playing indoor soccer during PE classes, but had agreed to use the volleyball instead of football. The ball hit a pupil in the eye, which was damaged permanently. The pupil who had kicked the ball and the city as an employer of the sport teacher was responsible for damages as the kick had been inappropriately strong and the teacher had not banned the perpetuation of the football game with volleyball. The compensation was reduced due to the injured person's own fault.

Similarly, the Supreme Court ruled in the case KKO 2003:70 the owner of a gym hall to civil liability, when an athlete was injured on the step bench. The client was an experienced athlete and his own contribution to the damage was taken into account in the amount of damages.

In Sweden, also corporate fines can be imposed in these cases. The last time this happened was when an 8-year-old boy drowned in a municipal pool. Tomelilla municipality was sentenced in a District Court in addition to damages also to corporate fines as the swimming pool was considered to have been inadequately supervised. In Finland, the corporate criminal liability will not apply in cases like this.


6.      The organizer and the athlete causes damages to the audience


The organizer of the public event is required by law to take the necessary precautions where there is risk of injury. If you have already started an event which proves to be dangerous to health, the organizer must as a last resort cancel it. The security guards and the police have the same right, if other measures are not sufficient. The police can also provide general rules to maintain safety and prevent damage to health. Organizer’s responsibility is underlined by the compulsory insurance in, e.g., motor racing and horse races.

Organizer’s responsibility for damage to the spectator has often been dealt with in Courts. Usually the ball or puck has hit a spectator and have caused injury. For example, in the case KKO 1975 II 64 sports club was convicted to damages after the puck had injured a bystander. The organizer was sentenced to pay, since the damage had been born in a hockey game in a typical way, it was foreseeable and the association had not exercised due diligence in preventing the damage of this nature. – On the other hand, in the case KKO 1981 II 84 the volley ball in the audience during heating was considered an unforeseen accident and the organizer of the event was not responsible for the damages to the spectator.

The biggest disaster in the Finnish sports history took place in Jyväskylä Rally in 1996 (nowadays Neste Oil Rally) in which a bystander was killed and 38 injured when a rally car crashed into the crowd. The case did not lead to trial because only the Danish rally car driver and his map reader were considered guilty of the accident and also because of their negligence was moderate. The classic rally case is much older. In the case KKO 1972 II 97 a rally car crashed into the crowd in a speed contest and crashed against a spectator’s car. The organizers were responsible for the damage, but not the racing driver, who had followed the rules of the competition.

Although the criminal responsibility of the organizer of a sports event has not yet been dealt in the Nordic Courts of law, it is not at all impossible. It is essential to ask what kind of precautions the organizer had taken, what kind of security duties he had and whether the viewer himself had been unpredictable and had taken conscious risks.

The athlete’s criminal liability for damage to the spectator is judged in the same way as described above in Section 3. For example, if an ice hockey player deliberately and knowingly triggers a puck to the audience, thus hitting a spectator, he may be criminally liable for assault. The situation is different for firing shots in the game situation in a way that belongs to nature of the game. The viewer has obviously not given its consent to be shot with a puck. Instead, the question is whether the athlete and the organizers have taken all due care.

In principle also the guard's responsibility may be considered. His position does not require that he risks his own life and health, but on the other hand, he may not be among the first to leave the premises as soon as the smallest incident occurred. If the security guard allows children to go on the rally stages, he may be responsible for their injuries. These situations have not arisen in case law.

In serious cases it may be conceivable that even the Police Authority would bear responsible for misconduct, if it has not given the necessary orders to the organizer of a public event. This would be extremely unusual. The point is that the organizers are responsible for security at the event. The authorities rarely have a real opportunity to assess the risks.


7.      The audience damages each other and an athlete


The dramatic events which occurred in 1985 at Heysel stadium led the Council of Europe to draft the first European Convention on spectator violence and misbehavior. Entered into force in 1985, this Convention constitutes one of the European pillars in the fight against this phenomenon.

The Convention is principally aimed at football but more generally concerns all sports. It incites the participating states to take concrete measures destined to prevent and control violence. To this end, it sets out a number of measures, namely: close co-operation between police forces involved; prosecution of offenders and application of appropriate penalties; strict control of ticket sales; restrictions on the sale of alcoholic drinks; appropriate design and physical fabric of stadia to prevent violence and allow effective crowd control and crowd safety. It also proposes measures to identify and prosecute offenders.

The Council of Europe supervises the application of the clauses listed in the Convention by means of study visits in the various states that have ratified the text. The information gathered serves as a basis for the evaluation reports, destined to measure the advances of the various countries in this field.

European Council Convention has no direct impact on criminal law. The violent offender is criminally responsible of his acts. The British government acted after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, when 96 fans died, bringing in the Football Spectators Act 1989. Football violence in British stadiums declined after the introduction of the Football Spectators Act, and in the 2000s much of the trouble occurred away from stadiums or away at major international tournaments.

 These problems are not as serious in the Nordic countries. In Sweden football hooliganism became a growing problem in the 1980s, but pitch invasions and violence and violence at football grounds decreased in the late 1990s, when hooligan firms started pre-arranging their fights away from the grounds and the regular supporters. The most famous case is from 2001, as 12 members of a gang inflicted life-threatening injuries on supporters of the opposing football team. Football hooliganism is regarded as a serious problem in Denmark both to the sport itself and to the Danish society in general. In an attempt to control hooliganism in Denmark the Danish parliament introduced a hooligan registry in 2008.


8.      Other types of crime


Criminal law is applicable also in many other kinds of rule violations in sport. Sports organizations can be guilty of subsidy fraud, tax fraud, book keeping crimes and other financial crimes. These can also be common, if your sports team does not succeed in the sport and its underlying association or company is working at a loss for a long time.

For example, a doctor who writes banned drugs to athletes can be found guilty of drug offenses or doping offense. For drug offenses it is enough if your doctor prescribes to you legal drugs without a medical need. The need to improve performance is not a medical reason for a recipe. The import, transfer and release of drugs fill the definitional elements of a doping offence. The mere use of doping substances has been submitted to the sport's own disciplinary actions (warning and competition ban). The use of doping is not considered to be fraudulent against other athletes.

Courts have also dealt with defamation in sport. In Finland, the Supreme Court held in judgment KKO 2005:137 that the driver of a horse was guilty of libel by calling his female rival with sexually degrading expressions. The driver had already received a disciplinary punishment. He claimed that his expression "had been hit by inflation" and that in sport you can defame a competitor by more than in ordinary life. The Supreme Court did not accept the defamation and made particular reference to equality and prohibition of racism.

Gambling fraud is a traditional criminal law problem when a team or an athlete loses match or competition with intent, and causes damage to the gaming company by placing bets against him. In Finland, several dozen baseball players were sentenced to imprisonment as they had agreed in 1998 on the results of five matches and had placed great bets against their teams. In Sweden there has been discussion about an ice hockey match at the Olympic Games in Toronto in 2006 where the Swedish national team lost one match on purpose. The event did not result in prosecution as probably no one who knew of the decision to lose the game used the information in betting.