Can Causing a Sports Injury Be a Crime?

6th March 2020
Throughout the years, we've seen many serious soccer injuries. Could it be a crime to cause an injury during a game? Let's look at some important aspects.

Precedence under Spanish court, so far, doesn’t make it clear whether causing a sports injury can be treated as a crime. Sports entities do apply rigorous sanctions in the face of excessive aggression, and so too do players. In practice, players assume the risks of their activities, but they’re also protected by the law.

In Spain, trials for aggravated assaults are not unheard of. As a result, all athletes must know their limits when it comes to their actions and intentions during competition. In any case, victims of bodily harm have the right to sue for damages.

Civil responsibility in sports injuries

Article 1.902 of the Spanish Civil Code describes what happens in the case of guilt or negligence. This norm is key for understanding the responsibility athletes have, for example, in contact sports. It says the following:

“A person who causes injury to another through action or ommision is obligated to repair the damage caused.”

It doesn’t really matter if it happens during the practice of the sport or not; all injuries must be repaired despite the context. Professional athletes usually have ample coverage under their health insurance policies. However, in some cases, they’ll need to ask for damages.

For example, a soccer player who is temporarily unable to play often has sports insurance coverage. If they’re a professional athlete, then the team insurance can cover all of the medical expenses.

What are the consequences? Injuries prevent them from making money and will change their life, as well as their family’s, permanently. In those cases, it’s possible to make a claim for essential rehabilitation.

A soccer player and a referee.

Can it really be a crime to cause a sports injury?

It’s not easy for a sports injury to be considered a crime. In fact, many within the Spanish legal system disagree on several points, and the law is not completely clear.

For many judges and lawyers, sports injuries shouldn’t be prosecuted as crimes. This is because of the implicit consent of the athletes to assume the risks of the discipline.

However, it’s not unheard of in Spain. Authorities decide that there was indeed a crime, for example, when it’s clear that someone wanted to cause injury. That’s what happened on September 17, 1999, in La Rioja.

In that case, it was obvious that the player wanted to injure the other. It was clearly not an accident, and it happened outside of the game.

In any case, judges must consider quite a lot of elements. And of course, defendants will always argue that injury is simply a risk of playing the game.

Trials and sports injuries: other cases

Two other cases took place in La Rioja in 2002 and 2004. They tried to accuse two soccer players of crimes, but they were absolved. The reason: the judge decided that the actions that caused the injuries were part of the game. In both trials, they decided that the victims consented to the risks of playing the game.

An image of scales and gavel.

In contrast, a sentence handed out on July 27, 2001, in Cádiz found a player guilty of undue aggression during a soccer game. The player was furious about being tripped and injured the victim as a result.

Evidently, in the case of Cádiz, injury and aggression were considered outside the realm of normal sports participation. In these cases, it’s much simpler to determine guilt.

Crimes have been prosecuted that have taken place during games, as well. One example of this is in Madrid on May 13, 2008. In that case, a soccer player was accused of going after both the victim’s legs. They determined that it was obviously with malice.

There are cases that the law will have to study, such as when Pepe stomped on Messi’s hand. But the conclusion is this: yes, it’s possible for causing sports injuries to be legally considered criminal. It’s not always simple, and the Spanish justice system isn’t in agreement about everything. Each case is unique and different.

  • Universidad Católica San Antonio de Murcia. Olmedilla Zafra, Aurelio; Andreu Álvarez, Mª Dolores; Abenza Cano, Lucía; Ortín Montero, Francisco J.; Blas Redondo, Amador. Lesiones y factores deportivos en futbolistas jóvenes. 2006. Extraído de: https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/1630/163017530002.pdf
  • Alberto González Díaz. Prevención y Rehabilitación de lesiones en el fútbol. Extraído de: http://www.peloteros.es/files/Descarga/Prevencion-y-rehabilitacion-de-lesiones-en-futbol/PREVENCION.DE.LESIONES.Y.REHABILITACION.EN.EL.FUTBOL.pdf