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Where do different sports draw the line on "sledging” and “taunting"? - Part 1 – Cricket and Tennis

Wednesday, 23 December 2015 By Lloyd Thomas

In sport, “sledging” or “taunting” describes the practice of using insulting, intimidating or provocative language or behaviour against an opponent to try and gain a competitive advantage.

The practice can take many different forms, and the question of what is acceptable conduct and what is not is a difficult one. Governing bodies have sought to resolve the question in different ways, meaning that what may be acceptable in one sport may not be appropriate in another.

This two-part article analyses the different regulatory approaches taken by the governing bodies of four major sports – Part 1 focuses on cricket and tennis, and Part 2 on basketball and American football.



The line between gaining a competitive advantage and unacceptable conduct in a sporting environment has always been a difficult one to draw. From sport’s earliest days, competitors have always sought to gain an advantage over their opponents. Some see this as an inherent part of sport.

As cricketer Stuart Broad said of sledging:

I know the International Cricket Council are very strict about what you are allowed to do and what looks good on TV, but you can’t let that take away from your natural game.

We’ve got a few guys in this squad who like to be in a battle and I think you need that in Test cricket. When two players are playing with passion for their country, that’s good to see.1

Sledging has been commonly used by cricket teams to seek to intimidate their opponents since at least the 1960s.

There are differing stories about how the term “sledging” came into use: Ian Chappell, the former Australian cricket player, claims that the term came into use in either the 1963 – 1964 or 1964 – 1965 Sheffield Shield competition when a player who swore in the presence of a woman was said to have been as subtle as a sledgehammer.2

Alternatively, it has been argued that the term derived from fielding teams in the mid-sixties who played against former Australian opening bowler Grahame Corling. It has been alleged that Corling’s wife was having an affair with a team-mate and that, in reference to this, when Corling came out to bat, fielding teams would start singing the Percy Sledge song ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’.3

Whatever the origin of the term, sledging is now a well-established element of cricket and one that is surrounded by controversy. Some consider that it is an essential part of the sport, whereas others consider it to be unacceptable gamesmanship.

The ICC’s Regulations

The International Cricket Council (the “ICC”) has sought to control (though not entirely outlaw) the practice through a number of the Articles in its Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel (the “ICC Code”).

Level One Offence

Article 2.1.44 states that it is a Level One Offence to use:

…language or a gesture that is obscene, offensive or insulting during an International Match.

The guidance to this offence states that:

Article 2.1.4 includes: (a) excessively audible or repetitious swearing; and (b) obscene gestures which are not directed at another person, such as swearing in frustration at one’s own poor play or fortune. In addition, this offence is not intended to penalise trivial behaviour.

When assessing the seriousness of the breach, the Umpire shall be required to take into account the context of the particular situation and whether the words or gesture are likely to: (a) be regarded as obscene; (b) give offence; or (c) insult another person.

This offence is not intended to cover any use of language or gestures that are likely to offend another person on the basis of their race, religion, gender, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin. Such conduct is prohibited under the ICC’s Anti-Racism Code and must be dealt with according to the procedures set out therein.

Example: Michael Clarke

During the 2013-2014 Ashes series, the Australian batsman Michael Clarke provoked English player James Anderson by telling him to “Get ready for a broken f****** arm”.5 The comment was picked up on the stump microphone, which led umpire Kumar Dharmasena and third official Marais Erasmus to bring a charge under Article 2.1.4 of the ICC Code.

Clarke admitted the offence, which meant a formal hearing was not required. As a breach of Article 2.1.4 of the ICC Code, Clarke was fined 20% of his match fee.6

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Written by

Lloyd Thomas

Lloyd Thomas

Lloyd Thomas is an associate in Squire Patton Boggs’ Litigation department and is part of the Sports Law team based in its London office.

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