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What is the legal position regarding injuries and even death in sport accidents?

The Criminal Court of Vigo, Spain, sent a football-player to jail for four months and fined him Euro1,210 for something he did during a game. It was not for match-fixing or doping. It was for playing rough football. But then, isn’t football a rough and tough game?
In this case, we have told you the answer before asking, ‘you be the judge’. There is more to come when a judgement sets a precedent; Spanish law demands punishment for the “intention of undermining the physical integrity of the competitor.” This opens a Pandora’s Box.
Some sports are dangerous; others hazardous. In this case, the opponent was sent crashing, after a tackle, into an advertising hoarding’s steel pole. The result was a skull injury and an open wound. Money makes the mare go, even in human sports; and the more the money, greater the passion to win. This, often, leads to injury; even death. Motor sports, two- and four-wheeled, skiing, cycling, even cricket, all have their share of fatalities. Boxing is a pure contact sport where injury to the opponent is the intent from the first bell. So is the case in American football. Rugby is no less violent. In fact, formal wrestling looks decidedly a ‘sissy’ event.
The question that now agitates the mind is: ‘Where does one draw the line?’
Tackles in football are part of the game. If illegal, the player is penalised in varying degrees. But some moves are legitimate. The referee does not rule them as foul. What happens when, in such a situation, a rival player injures himself? ‘Fair’ on the field, but ‘Foul’ in a court of law? Rubber pucks put more stitches on ice-hockey-players than maybe all other sports combined. The rink is a dangerous playing field. Ask Wayne Gretsky or the goalies. Is a puck a lethal weapon?
Muhammad Ali, the ‘Greatest’, is said to be a victim of Parkinson’s disease. He started his career as an Olympic champ, named Cassius Clay. Over the years, he fought many fights and regained his crown often. His condition is attributed to the many head injuries he must have received over the years. Does that make all his opponents criminally liable? Unless, of course, one can prove that he never landed a blow to Ali’s head!
The situation is now more fraught, with the advent of performance-enhancing drugs. Doping, in short. Cycling and Lance Armstrong, and 11 others, who followed him, come to mind. A drug cheat, sportsman or hanger-on, is criminally liable for transporting and administering. Jail sentences can follow in some countries where such substances are banned. This raises a not very hypothetical question.
Cyclists have been into drugs since the 1950s. Being personally involved, one can vouchsafe to its being a tough sport. Maybe, even the toughest. It’s no joke to spend six or seven hours, at average speeds of 40kmph on a tiny saddle, balancing oneself on two narrow wheels. And there are no time-outs or drinks breaks. How many other sports drain two to three kilos in a day? But does that justify the cocktails that are pumped into the system?
The law disallows it and punishment is severe. Yet, another aspect needs be explored. Consider this. A cyclist is on drugs. Drugs kill pain but impair reaction time. With slow reflexes, in a racing bunch of up to 150 cyclists, often going downhill in the mountains at close to 100km an hour, wheels can touch. A ‘clean’ cyclist goes over the side. And dies. (Such accidents are common occurrence with riders fished out of ravines, these days by helicopters.)
An innocent cycle accident? Occupational hazard? Manslaughter, not amounting to murder? Negligence? Riding under influence (RUI, not DUI)? Or just plain murder?

Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to [email protected] or [email protected]


ORG accuses trademark violation in TimesNow exit poll

The social media was abuzz on Tuesday following reports of trademark violation in the TimesNow-ORG exit polls. In fact, the name 'ORG' used in this survey belongs to and is trademark of Operations Research Group (ORG) Pvt Ltd. On the other hand, the Times of India group channel clarified that ORG mentioned in its exit polls stands for Operations Research Guild owned by one Amit Roy, a former employee of ORG.


Debasish Banerjee, managing director of ORG, that owns the trademark was quoted as saying in a communication by that, “We have faced similar problems earlier from one of our ex employees named Amit Roy who has a company in the name of Operations Research Guild registered in Gujarat so that this outfit can present itself as ORG to exploit the Brand name. May we request you not to present this outfit as ORG but by its full name.”


Several people accused the news channel of rigging the exit polls and misleading viewers. Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN IBN, and Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today were vocal on Twitter.


This allegation came after Times now channel conducted the Times Now-ORG exit polls related to the result of the Lok Sabha elections on 12th May. The Times Now-ORG poll suggested that the NDA would win 249 to 265 seats, which would leave it a little short of a majority though well within striking distance.


Amit Roy, who is one of the founding directors of ORG, branched out in 1994 and formed his own company called Operations Research Guild India Pvt Ltd (ORG India). Roy was quoted by as stating, “I am still a shareholder and one of the founder directors of ORG. But ORG India is my own company. I did the exit polls for News Nation, who then shared content with Times Now.”


Amit Roy says he has been doing exit polls since 1995, but this is the first time his company ORG India was doing an exit poll. He also expressed surprise over the comments made by other media honchos calling the poll fake, ”Some newspapers may have published the name as ORG, that is not anyone’s fault. Maybe there were mentions made by the channel and some panelists calling it ORG, but that again is not ORG India's fault. Calling the poll bogus or fake... those are very strong words to use. I don’t know if these people are using the word fake deliberately. Informed people are not used to using strong language. The same acronym two companies share does not make the poll fake.”


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