Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport GAA

How the law has become so crucial in modern era of sport


By Declan Bogue

A number of weeks ago, Professor Jack Anderson was having a conversation with Rob Heffernan, the man who was cheated out of that special moment on the podium during the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Heffernan had walked quickly in his 50km walk, coming home in fourth place. Russian Sergey Kirdyapkin took the gold, but was subsequently disqualified for doping after enjoying having the medal hung around his neck in front of thousands of fans. Cork man Heffernan was upgraded to bronze last year.

"He (Heffernan) has his medals retrospectively and he is delighted," explains Anderson.

"But he's also said, 'commercially, what is that worth? Like, imagine if I was in the London Olympic Stadium being presented with my medal, what's that worth in Ireland alone?'"

And that's how the conversation goes almost instantly.

For the students of Queen's University, they will be familiar with Anderson's tutoring of tort in the field of law. Teaching it through the prism of sports engages the students.

Though not for much longer. While he wears a number of different hats - such as being on the Court of Arbitration for British Sport, being secretary of the GAA's Disputes Resolution Authority and coaching hurling to the Bredagh club's youngsters - Anderson is leaving his post to head up a Sports Law Faculty in Melbourne Law School and is taking his wife Teresa and their three children.

The calibre of academics will be world-class. Canadian law Professor Richard McLaren - the man who uncovered the Russian doping scandal last year - will be the senior lecturer. The only other comparable seat of academia is Harvard.

"You are locked into this international sporting environment. It gives me an opportunity to develop. And it may not be forever," smiles Anderson.

Australia's gain is very much Belfast's loss.

Anderson argues how the case of a clean runner, such as Portaferry's Ciara Mageean, may ultimately be doomed to failure.

"You look at someone like Ciara Mageean. The dirtiest race (ever) was the 1,500m women's race in the London Olympics. Six of the top nine were subsequently caught doping," he says.

"And you kind of wonder about someone like Ciara Mageean. She is tested properly by a good testing agency in Ireland. She has a competitive disadvantage to all these people."

Sports litigation is a racy subject. Professor Anderson became interested in it at a formative age.

Hurling for his native Doon on the Limerick-Tipperary border, he became captivated by a situation involving a clubmate.

"This guy got injured on the field. A classic injury - he got 'done'. We all knew it. But he was self-employed and he missed out on work for weeks and weeks," he recalls.

The club's insurance policy covered him for a time, but then he thought he might pursue legal avenues for compensation. Anderson was reeled in. Last year he was appointed onto the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"It's kind of the Supreme Court for sport, I suppose," he describes modestly.

"It's blossomed like this. It's interesting stuff. Before the Olympics I was involved in some of the Russian doping cases and it's all very interesting, real-life stuff that you can apply then to the benefit of students."

After his Masters at the University of Limerick, he studied a PhD at Queen's concerning the legality of boxing.

While that was boxing on a macro-scale, more in line with general philosophy, he found himself puzzled by the immediate aftermath of another Russian victory, this time Vladimir Nikitin over Belfast man Michael Conlan at the Rio Olympics.

"There is a, what they call, an 'ad-hoc court of arbitration' for sport, a court on call," he says, taking us back to that August day.

"I couldn't understand why that wasn't considered. I thought he should have considered it."

He doesn't want to be alarmist, but he can foresee a flood of litigation coming out of concussion injuries in soccer, rugby and Gaelic games.

"The thing with concussion is that there is no consensus in the medical fraternity, how it is, how can you rehabilitate it," he explains. "You can have all the protocols you want, have it up on a website, but really the thing is that if there is any doubt then take him out.

"And if there is any doubt about the recovery, keep them out, it's that simple."

Team doctors running onto a field to assess players pumping with adrenaline, with multiple variables and often an emotional attachment to a player, is also part of the problem.

"Independent doctors is where it is going," reveals Anderson. "The English footballers from the '60s and '70s who had concussion now have dementia because of their use of the heavy leather football. In 20 or 30 years' time, you don't want players now having the same symptoms, let's do something about it now.

"The thing about concussion is that you can say what you want, but it is a brain injury. So let's be cautious. The last thing you want is the lawyers stepping in."

Anderson will be missed. In Queen's, in his local Bredagh club, but most especially among Queen's Law School.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph