A Midlands law firm has warned that sports clubs will be under the legal spotlight after the Harlequins “bloodgate” rugby scandal.
With clubs under more pressure than at any time for years because of the effect of the recession on merchandising and corporate hospitality, sport could be in for a tough time as the legal and financial spotlight turns on them.
The warning, from Leamington-based Wright Hassall, came in the wake of rugby union boss Dean Richards being given a global three-year ban for his part in a fake blood injury scandal while he was director of rugby at the London-based Harlequins team.
The player involved, Tom Williams, was landed with a four-month ban after he used a fake blood capsule to imitate a cut on the inside of his mouth in order to be substituted during a match with Irish side Leinster.
As a result the club were fined £259,000 but the European Rugby Cup (ERC) stopped short of throwing Harlequins out of the competition, which accounts for 15 per cent of the club’s annual revenue.
Stuart Cutting, who heads up the sports law team at Wright Hassall, said this case was a stark warning for all sports clubs and could affect the way other governing bodies deal with cheating. He said: “Is the outcome of this case likely to have an effect on other sports? It will surely be persuasive under the principles of natural justice and fairness should cheating of this nature be evident in other sports. This decision and the resulting bans are indicative of how sports governing bodies are likely to apply the principles of natural justice and decide what is fair when it comes to cheating in the sporting arena.”
Williams had the inside of his cheek sliced in an attempt to cover up the deception, an act in itself which could have serious legal repercussions.
Mr Cutting said: “Whether or not Williams consented to this act it is still an assault in law for which the perpetrator could be prosecuted. It is well known that an individual is unable to consent to an assault.
“There is nothing new in coaches and competitors being banned for working together to cheat in sport. This has been commonplace in athletics in relation to the use of performance-enhancing drugs for many years and the World Anti-Doping Agency takes a very tough stance against such cheating in sport.
“Feigning a blood injury is no different to the use of performance-enhancing drugs and so, as they say, ‘the punishment should fit the crime’.
“It is clear that the culpability behind the cheating in this makes this case all the more serious, requiring that a substantial sanction be imposed against the perpetrators. As to how the Harlequins ‘bloodgate’ impacts on other sports it will be a case of watch this space.”
Sports clubs are being hit hard by the recession, and cannot afford to get in legal trouble. A recent report by accountants PKF showed that the drop in spending on merchandise and corporate hospitality was having a big impact on budgets at football clubs, even though ticket sales had held up.