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| 2 minutes read

Summum ius, summa iniuria (in Sports)

The story looks simple - everybody has probably seen the images by now. The world's number one male player, Novak Djokovic, was immediately disqualified from the US Open 2020 after hitting a line judge with a ball he wanted to discard. The rules applicable to the US Open make an infringement to discard balls without adopting adequate safeguards and, in a separate section, to behave rudely with line judges, umpires and other third parties at the venue. 

Mr Djokovic has profusely apologized for having hit the line judge (which is good news and what you expected from a sports figure in these circumstances) and the line judge is reported to be recovering and returning to her duty before the end of the competition (which is, needless to say, the best news). The reported massive online abuse directed at her following the incident is unjustifiable behaviour. No one has seriously claimed that Mr Djokovic hit the line judge on purpose. The abusers, however, did so willfully, most likely from the comfort of their homes and just for joy. This is simply not acceptable. Abusing a person is always wrong. Doing so to a person for something that happened when she was working and that she did not seek nor could avoid goes against the basics of human dignity. She deserves something much better than that and I am sure the abusers can do better than that too. 

On top of being disqualified from the tournament, Mr Djokovic has lost all the points he had earned in the US Open, all the money he had earned during the tournament (allegedly around 250,000 USD) and was also fined with 10,000 USD. Most commentators have agreed that the umpire had no other option in the light of the applicable rules. Based on the face of Mr Djokovic when he hits the ball (showing he did not even want the ball to go towards the line judge, let aside hitting the judge) I wonder, however, which similar behaviour in out-of-sports life would have received that automatic, immediate and significant punishment. 

As from Roman Law times, a basic principle of disciplinary law is that the rules are as they are but shall be always proportionally adapted to the circumstances of the case, the willfulness of the behaviour and the damage caused, not to mention the ability to defend oneself properly from the accusations. It sounds perhaps inconsistent that Mr Djokovic was punished in what appears to be an accident and did not receive any penalty for a prior incident, just five minutes before, in which he sent off a ball obviously enraged. It certainly sounds inconsistent that all those that have directed abuse online toward the line judge, causing her lasting and deep damage, will likely not be punished at all (and rather cheered by others). 

Novak Djokovic must have known his US Open was over as soon as that tennis ball hit a line judge in the throat. BBC.


tennis, violence at sport, disqualification, fairness