Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Where Does the Law of the Game End and the Law of the Land Begin?

The BBC reports that Chelsea's John Terry is to be charged with a crime -- "a racially aggravated public order offence" -- with a trial soon to come, for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand of QPR in a match earlier this year. The English FA has suspended its own investigation of the matter pending the legal proceedings.

The situation will raise all sorts of jurisprudential questions. For instance, Liverpool's Luis Suarez has just been suspended for 8 games and fined 40,000 pounds for racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United. The suspension resulted from a violation of the FA's internal rules governing the game and under the FA's extensive procedures for discipline (here in PDF).
The two cases will certainly raise questions of harmonization between the FA's rules and British law. Is it possible that the Suarez case represented a violation of FA rules but not British law? Is it possible that Terry violated British law but not the FA rules? Should the punishments in both cases be similar in both settings?

The order of the decisions is also important. Does the FA's decision on Suarez put any pressure on British authorities? Similarly, how will the FA respond to the decision rendered by the courts in the Terry case?

It seems that the FA's extensive rules for disciplinary conduct -- at least as far as I can see -- do not clearly address the relationship of Association sanctions for on-the-field violations in the context of legal sanctions for those same behaviors.

This issue is not easy to resolve and it is not going away.  As one former US prosecutor explained, judging the legality of on-the-field actions is not simple:
"A punch in boxing will you get you a championship. A punch in hockey will get you cheers and the penalty box. A punch in basketball, you don’t see that. It's not supposed to happen. That's not even part of the game"
Where does the law of the game end and the law of the land begin? And what happens when they overlap?


Post a Comment