The Connection between Criminal Law and Sports

Criminal Law and sports are very intertwined. Along with the regular rules of the game, officials can apply the Criminal Code as well. Here's everything you need to know about Criminal Law in sports.
The Connection between Criminal Law and Sports

Last update: 31 January, 2020

Generally speaking, many sports legalities are pending issues in criminal law. The pending issues aren’t exclusive to Spain; they’re on the agenda for many legislators all around the world.

So, it comes as no surprise that several countries are reforming their Criminal Code in order to bring big sports issues to light. Examples of such issues can include civil responsibility for injuries, the judicial response to doping or the constant violence that unfolds at sports events.

Until recent times, administrative and disciplinary bodies usually dealt with sports-related cases and sanctions. Bringing such infractions to courts for legal action was a complicated and unlikely process. Consequently, the cases often flowed to certain sports disciplinary bodies instead.

However, the never-ending reports, accusations, and scandals in the sports world have highlighted the need for a more relevant criminal law. It needs to have a stronger presence so that all citizens abide by the law.

Criminal law and sports violence

The violence that erupts in sports contexts might very well be the most critical issue regarding criminal law and sports. Aside from other reasons, violence is a major problem to tackle because it takes place between both players and fans alike.

Before, cases of violence often ended up in front of judicial sports bodies with disciplinary authority. Furthermore, these judicial bodies were often represented by federal disciplinary committees, which were responsible for imparting justice with disciplinary action.

In Spain, however, after the 2013 reform, the Criminal Code started to recognize sports violence as a crime. Thus, those who act violently or use speech to incite violence in or out of a stadium or sports center can face prison sentences that vary between six months to four years.

criminal law spain

Readers should note that these sanctions don’t only apply to the acts that unfold inside sports establishments. They also apply to those that happen in the surrounding areas. The reform was an important step in giving criminal law a stronger presence in sports. Before the reform, laws solely focused on acts that happened inside sports establishments.

How do laws respond to doping?

On the topic of needing stronger laws against sports controversies and problems, doping is an interesting case. According to Article 362 of the Spanish Criminal Code, doping crimes are met with prison time that can span from six months to two years. In addition, authorities can administer fines and bring professional careers to a halt.

Considering the above, in Spain athletes and other figures in a sports context can receive prison time for doping. However, it’s not that simple in real life. The Spanish Criminal Code continues to state that accusing an athlete of using unregulated substances to enhance his or her performance of doping is unreasonable.

According to Article 362, punishment is only reserved for those who supply, administer or help athletes access doping substances for non-therapeutic uses. In other words, the law tries to protect athletes from the actions of the third party.

But, the problem lies in that the law fails to recognize that athletes are capable of breaking the rules by their own will and means.

This legal loophole has created the need for more detailed laws that don’t only punish anti-sportive conduct; laws should also prevent the many health risks that doping carries for athletes and the general public.

criminal law doping

Sports injuries, civil responsibility, and criminal law

Civil responsibility consists of the possibility of imputing someone for the consequences of their actions. In a sports context, how could civil responsibility be relevant in an injury?

Not surprisingly, any sport implies a certain degree of physical risk. Injuries during practices or competitions are a clear example.

However, if the injury results from actions that fail to comply with the rules of the game, it could be a case for civil responsibility in a sports context.

But again, it’s not that simple in real life. These cases become complicated as the main debate always rests on the intentional nature of the act.

It’s easy to imagine how difficult it would be to prove if someone acted intentionally or not to hurt an opponent during a match or competition. To make matters worse, sporting events are fast-paced and full of adrenaline, making the truth harder to reveal.

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