In the avalanche of publicity surrounding the Ashes Test series, a court award in Sydney yesterday that has far reaching consequences for all body contact sport went almost unnoticed.

On the eve of the Tri-Nations final between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis, one of the finest Kiwis of them all, Jarrod McCracken, was awarded $90,000 by the NSW Supreme Court for an illegal tackle that ended his career.

McCracken had sought around $1.5 million, and even though Justice Robert Hulme found in his favour regarding the career-ending injury, the damages were substantially discounted because of McCracken’s extraordinary business success since his forced retirement.

Since the injury forced his retirement in 2000, McCracken had amassed something like $30 million through his successful investment in hotels, a shopping centre and two major developments in Townsville.

As a result, his claim for “loss of potential earnings” resulting from his forced retirement did not succeed, with the court pointing out that his career-ending injury allowed him more time to be extraordinarily successful in business.

But the unique nature of McCracken’s situation does not detract from the consequences of the decision for rugby league and other sports.

Justice Hulme found the spear tackle on McCracken by the Melbourne Storm’s Stephen Kearney and Marcus Bai was “intentional and intended to injure”.

This is not the first time a football player has successfully sued for injury resulting from illegal play. But the court’s decision does not leave much doubt that, but for McCracken’s post-football career success, the Storm and Kearney and Bai would be staring down the barrel of a seven-figure payout.

You do not need to be a lawyer to see the consequences of this decision for all football codes and other body contact sports. Unless the victim has been as successful as McCracken in their post-sporting career, intentional illegal play resulting in serious injury might prove very, very costly.

It is not the first time a player has been awarded damages in such circumstances, but the high profiles of the players involved, and the comments by the Justice Hulme, must cause alarm bells to ring in every football club in the nation.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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