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Sports-related criminal cases rare, but American football dirty tackle may be exception

Former Nihon University American football team head coach Masato Uchida is seen surrounded by reporters at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, on May 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- In sports, it is not uncommon for players to be injured during competition. However, it is very rare indeed for a criminal damages complaint to be filed. That is exactly what has happened in the now infamous case of the dirty tackle of a Kwansei Gakuin University American football quarterback by a Nihon University player, but will it be made into a criminal case?

"In sports, the participants understand that there is a certain level of danger, so there is a strong social norm dictating that players won't be held criminally liable (for injuries). That being the case, it seems likely that most players don't file criminal complaints," Kokushikan University law professor Mitsuru Irisawa told the Mainichi Shimbun.

Attorney Takeo Nishiwaki, secretary-general of the "Sports-ho seisaku kenkyu-kai" (sports law and policy research committee), commented, "From the perspective of criminal law, accusations of illegality have generally been rejected as long as what happens on the field is within the rules of the game. However, just from looking at the video (of the dirty tackle), this action was against the rules. It's certainly possible that there was intent to injure and therefore could be considered criminal infliction of bodily injury."

Not every action committed in the context of sporting competition is considered above board. In 2012, a futsal player given a red card lost his temper and kicked his fallen opponent in the neck, resulting in his arrest at the scene by the Nara Prefectural Police for suspected assault.

In the present American football case, the focus now is whether the Nihon University player's tackle was intentional, and whether head coach Masato Uchida ordered the hit. In Nishiwaki's opinion, "If the tackle was in fact ordered (by Uchida), there is definitely a chance he could be accused of instigation or criminal complicity."

Sports law expert Nobuyoshi Tsujiguchi told the Mainichi, "It seems that the Nihon University team's extreme desire to win paralyzed its sense of foul play. This incident has raised questions about the very definition of how sports should be."

(Japanese original by Ikuko Ando and Yoshitaka Yamamoto, City News Department)

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