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A review of the disciplinary process and sanctioning decisions from Rugby World Cup 2015 - Part 1: Citing, hearings and video evidence

Thursday, 14 January 2016 By Kevin Carpenter

For all stakeholders in the game of rugby union (perhaps other than supporters of England, such as this author), the Rugby World Cup 2015 (‘RWC 2015’) held in England was widely considered to be the biggest and best edition to date in terms of attendances, reach and competitiveness.1

One area that saw its fair share of drama and controversy was “foul play” committed by players and the disciplinary actions that followed. This two-part blog examines the disciplinary process and sanctioning decisions at RWC 2015. It provides an overall retrospective analysis using the author’s knowledge of sports law and experience playing and refereeing rugby union.

Part 1, below, examines the applicable regulations, the citing process, the nature of the hearings, and the use of video evidence.

Part 2 (available here) examines the sanctioning decisions, the appeals, and provides comments and suggestions for future editions of the tournament.


RWC 2015 disciplinary process

Disciplinary action in rugby union for conduct on the field of play is commonly referred to in the sport as ‘foul play’, as this is how it is described in the title of the relevant Law (Law 10) of the World Rugby Laws of the Game (the “Laws”).2 The Laws contain all that is necessary to enable the Game to be played correctly and fairly. The referee, and other match officials on the day of the match, being the ultimate arbiters of the Laws must apply and enforce them safely and fairly.

In contrast, and yet complimentary, the World Rugby Handbook contains the Regulations governing off field matters in the global Game.3 World Rugby Regulation 17 deals with all procedural matters pertaining to foul play including core principles and application to disciplinary bodies and sanctions.4 The rationale behind the Regulation is to be found in the Preamble:

  1. The underlying rationale for Regulation 17 is to maintain and promote fair play, protect the health and welfare of Players, ensure that acts of Foul Play are dealt with expeditiously and appropriately by independent means within the Game and that the image and reputation of the Game is not adversely affected.
  2. This Regulation sets out a harmonised approach to the administration of discipline and the implementation of sanctions for Foul Play at all levels of the Game. The objective of this Regulation is to achieve consistency in the way in which discipline is administered and uniformity in the manner in which the assessment of the seriousness of Foul Play is conducted and sanctions imposed. Underlying the Regulation is the overall objective that the disciplinary process shall comply with the fundamental principles of natural justice.

Regulation 17 is well drafted and comprehensive. The challenge for World Rugby was how to apply it to their showpiece global tournament given, “the integrity and consistency of the tournament disciplinary process is central to the image and reputation of the sport.5    

Prior to the tournament starting World Rugby published the ‘ Tournament disciplinary process’, which dealt with foul play and misconduct and explained how the citing, hearing and sanctioning process set out in Regulation 17 would apply under expedited timeframes for the six-week tournament.6

Other sporting events and competitions have put specialist expedited procedures in place, most notably the International Olympic Committee engage the Court of Arbitration for Sport to provide an Ad Hoc Panel for the duration of each edition of the summer and winter Olympic Games.7

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Written by

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin is a advisor and member of the editorial board for LawInSport, having previously acted as editor.

Kevin specialises in integrity, regulatory, governance and disciplinary matters. His expertise and knowledge has led him to be engaged by major private and public bodies, including the IOC, FIFA, the Council of Europe, INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as well as making regular appearances internationally delivering presentations and commenting in the media on sports law issues.

His research and papers are published across a variety of forums, including having a blog on LawInSport.

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