Legally Ejecting Spectators at Events

Published 17 October 2010

By Gary Rice, Beauchamps Solicitors.Ejecting fans from sporting events, however necessary to maintain public order and ensure crowd safety, can often give rise to media embarrassment and cause legal headaches for the organisation concerned.

While sporting bodies have a duty and an obligation to control crowd volumes and behaviour to ensure the safety of all spectators at events, the basis of such ejection, from a legal perspective, must be considered. 

During the World Cup group game between Holland and Denmark, 36 women were ejected from the Soccer City stadium by FIFA officials for wearing clothing which, according to FIFA, amounted to ambush marketing by the brewing company Bavaria. At this year’s Wimbledon tennis tournament at a match between Victor Hanescu and Daniel Brands, four youths were ejected from the seated area of the crowd but remained in the arena shouting abuse at Hanescu. This aggravated the player to such an extent that he spat into the crowd and deliberately made four service foot faults to lose two points giving his opponent a 3-0 lead. The youths involved were later arrested by police for harassment under the UK Public Order Act. Hanescu was also later fined $15,000 for his behaviour. Last month, at a NY Yankees v Cleveland Indians baseball game in Cleveland, a city where they are still smarting from the loss of their start basketball player Le Bron James to Miami, a man was ejected for wearing a James Miami jersey to the stadium! 

In some cases, organisations can look to the law in order to give cause for and to empower them to extract individuals from the grounds of an event. In Ireland, the Public Order Act 1994 (as amended) sets out various arrestable offences which may be committed in a public place and can justify an ejection. Such offences range from intoxication, disorderly conduct and threatening and abusive conduct in a public place to the offences of affray, rioting and violent disorder. However, as a public order offence is criminal in nature, ejection of a person on such grounds can quickly turn into a contentious matter for any organisation considering that the offence can only be legally said to have been committed when tried in a court when all the necessary and appropriate constitutional safeguards are afforded to the person. 

The most efficient and appropriate way to tackle this difficulty is to ensure that the ticketing terms and conditions have been extensively drawn to give a wide power to the relevant organisation to eject spectators who they believe are behaving in an unruly or inappropriate manner. When ejecting unruly spectators from a venue which is hired by an organisation or when the team/organisation is playing/competing away from its usual abode, it is important that the ticketing terms and conditions incorporate the grounds regulations of the venue and that the two are consistent. This will ensure that the power to eject unruly spectators is retained and that the ability to effectively control the crowd is maintained. 

Sporting bodies need to be acutely aware of the powers as bestowed on them through the terms and conditions displayed on the tickets and should take the opportunity to review same to ensure that they are satisfactory and sufficient to their needs. 

This article was originally published in 'Sports Update' the newsletter of Beauchamps Solicitors. For more information, click here.