New Zealand: Calling the shots on disciplinary issues in sport

We Kiwis love our sport, and amateur and community sports clubs are the backbone of our communities. However, largely run by volunteers, the rules and regulations of the game, and importantly the enforcement of those rules and regulations, can be grossly inconsistent between and within codes. This is perhaps best seen at the grassroots level, and especially when disciplining players who do not follow those rules. While the people who volunteer their time are to be commended, there are downsides to volunteer led processes. They tend to have an element of inconsistency in outcomes, which can result in penalties that are inherently unfair to the players concerned.

This issue was highlighted in a recent premier rugby league case where a player appealed a decision of the Canterbury Rugby League Incorporated Judicial Panel (the Panel) to suspend him for 13 years from all levels of rugby league in Canterbury. For his part, the player accepted he had pushed the referee, but felt the 13 year suspension was excessive. We agreed. On appeal, the Southern Zone Appeals Committee (the Appeals Committee) reduced the penalty to 2 years and 3 months.

In July 2016, a Northern Bulldogs player was given a red card and sent from the field following a disagreement with the ref. The player appeared before the Panel in relation to the red card. The Panel considered that this type of behavior brought the game into disrepute and was not how rugby league should be perceived by the community at large. They considered that the player's behavior should attract a penalty that both denounced the conduct and deterred other players from engaging in similar behavior.

In considering a starting point for the penalty, the Panel referred to a two year entry point for this type of behavior with a maximum penalty of life suspension. They adopted a starting point of 15 years suspension. In adopting the starting point, no reference was made to any guidelines or precedent. After a deduction for favorable circumstances relating to the player, a 13 year suspension was imposed as the penalty.

With the greatest respect for the Panel making the decision, the penalty applied was disproportionate to the level of offending that took place. However, as a community body, run by volunteers, it is somewhat unsurprising given the general lack of guidance in the disciplinary area which is not limited just to this particular sport.

The Appeals Committee, who considered this matter as if it was being heard for the first time, had another opportunity to hear the evidence first hand. This also allowed the player to present new witnesses and prepare a statement that was provided to the Appeals Committee. The player always accepted that contact had occurred with the referee, so his appeal was limited to the seriousness of the contact with the referee and the penalty imposed.

The Appeals Committee found the conduct was less serious than originally first thought and therefore the penalty should reflect that. The Appeals Committee also found that the sentence was disproportionate to the offending and reduced the original suspension from 156 months to 27 months, an approximate 82% reduction in penalty. This is a significant reduction from the 13 year suspension the Panel had imposed in the first instance and highlights the divergent views on the conduct and appropriate sanction.

The significant reduction in penalty of some eleven years shows the fickle nature of penalties in the sporting context. It also shows that bodies considering penalties in the first instance have very little guidance or precedent to help them make informed decisions. The large discrepancy between the two penalties for the same conduct is not unique to this case. This type of situation arises all too often, and often can result in a player paying legal fees and costs to challenge a decision that is innately unfair. A quick google search shows a range of penalties for conduct that is more or less the same across a range of codes. Unfortunately given the nature of the reporting systems, there is no centralised database and therefore we rely on the media to report these sort of decisions.

For comparison, when assessing the penalty in this instance against the entry points for physical abuse of match officials under the Rugby Union's IRB Sanctions for Offences within the Playing Enclosure, it would be sit at the top end of the range (96+ weeks). Having found that the conduct was in essence a push, a sentence at the top end of the IRB's recommended sanctions seems excessive and forces us to consider what, if any, behavior would come under sanctions at the lower end (24 weeks) and mid-range (48 weeks).

With most sports enjoying increasing competitor numbers, it is perhaps time for our sporting codes to make available sufficient resources so that disciplinary matters can be dealt with in a way that is consistent and fair. This may mean a centralized system of decision reporting which all codes could have access to. This would stop the ambiguity and inconsistencies that we are currently seeing in all levels of sport.

However, at the end of the day we also need to remind ourselves that these sporting bodies are run by community volunteers and without further resourcing, the kind of changes outlined in this article may be a stretch too far. Certainly, our grassroots volunteers must be commended on the time and effort they dedicate to their sports, without them our country would not enjoy the sensational success it does at the top level.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions