Australians love sport – whether that is playing, watching on television, hosting match-day barbecues or attending live sporting events. Understandably, sport ignites a significant degree of passion and excitement for everyone involved, including spectators. However, the spirited support of a person’s favourite team or player should not come at the expense of player safety.

The safety of professional athletes was again in the spotlight this week following an incident between a fan and an opposition player at a NRL game.

A Melbourne Storm player was confronted by a spectator at a Manly Sea Eagles home game, whilst on his way to the dressing rooms after being sinbinned. The spectator was promptly arrested but later released by the police.

The NRL, Manly Sea Eagles and Melbourne Storm were all quick to condemn the actions of the member of the public. While the spectator did not make contact with the player, it was sufficiently serious for the NRL to direct the Manly Sea Eagles to improve security at their home venue before any further games could be held there for the upcoming finals series.

This is the most recent incident of a number of other security incidents across the NRL this year, with three separate incidents of supporters invading the pitch at Bankwest Stadium. On another occasion, a spectator was subdued by one of the on-field trainers after he approached a player for a “high-five” during the game.

This type of spectator behaviour does not happen in Australia alone – across different sporting codes internationally there have been incidents where supporters have launched drink bottles and other objects towards players and officials, placing their health and safety at risk.

These incidents highlight the responsibilities of sporting organisations (professional or otherwise) to ensure the health and safety of their players and others in the workplace. Players, when playing competitively on the sporting field, are in their workplace.

Work health and safety legislation places obligations on an employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of:

  • workers engaged by the employer; and
  • workers whose activities are influenced or directed by the employer.

Given that much of the problem is caused by fans, it is imperative that sporting organisations also make clear to fans that there are standards of behaviour that are expected. This issue was also discussed in our blogHave a seat and take a stand”.

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.