Should Police Get Involved After An On Field Incident?

Ben Flower’s vicious attack on Lance Hohaia in the 2014 Super League Grand Final has raised an interesting argument. There is a lot of speculation that Police are looking into the incident. In these sorts of situations you sometimes need a complaint to be made or pursued by the victim for anything to gain momentum, so I’m a little skeptical that anything will actually come of this.

Still, it raises a very interesting debate. Should Police get involve, or does the old saying “What happens on the field stays on the field” apply?

In this instance, lets just keep the debate about professional Rugby League. I think in the lower grades and at amateur level Police involvement is a very different subject.

I’ve been very outspoken about the fact that Ben Flower should spend a minimum of 12 months on the sideline. Rugby League needs to show to the world that it does not condone this type of violence in any way. A message needs to be sent. One that players hear very loudly so we never see anything like this happen again.

I was disgusted by Flowers attack on Hohaia, and yet part of me does not believe Police should get involved.

I would not pass judgement on Hohaia or any other player that chose to make a Police complaint. My feeling that Police should not be involved is just my personal opinion. I wasn’t the one lying on the turf at Old Trafford, unconscious, and having a prop punch me in the face.

I think its very fortunate that Hohaia wasn’t terribly injured by that second punch on the ground as he was unconscious. Had Hohaia suffered terrible facial fractures from that incident I think Flower would be lucky to ever play Rugby League again. As it is people are overlooking the fact that Hohaia obviously suffered a severe concussion which in itself is a brain injury!

When you run out on a Rugby League field you are acknowledging that you are willing to take a physical risk to play the sport you love. Marketing types would hate to see that in writing, but it is the truth. Rugby League can be a brutal sport when played fairly and just the act of playing the game can result in terrible injuries when things go wrong.

Rugby League is a sport that insists you physically confront your opponent. We don’t talk about it, but the act of dominating an opponent to the point where they physically break down is very much part of the game.

Few players run out onto the field ready to throw down and have a fist fight with an opponent, but you are ready for a confrontation.

When Ben Flower took Hohaia out as he run through to chase a kick, Hohaia reacted. He got up, ran 20 meters and hit Flower in the face with a forearm. It was a reaction, and we have to accept that in the heat of battle people react before thinking. What Hohaia did in itself wasn’t an acceptable response to Flower knocking him down. Ironically, had Flower not knocked Hohaia out and then gave him the follow up punch, Hohaia may have found himself on the sidelines for ten minutes!

Now all of the above may sound messy and hard to follow, and thats the point. That is where I am taking this.

In a collision sport like Rugby League that is played over 80 minutes and has hundreds of brutal, confronting moments, nothing is black and white. If Police are asked to respond to Flowers attack on Hohaia we then need to look at where we draw the line. Do they also look at Hohaia’s forearm on Flower as well? Do both players end up having a case to answer? If this all happened in the middle of a local street, how would the Police handle this incident?

You then open the door to the possibility that accidental high tackles might get looked at by local law enforcement. All of that and we haven’t even looking at possible legal action that may follow any convictions.

It all becomes very messy. It opens up a can of worms. Generally, Rugby League doesn’t have an issue with on field violence. The rules of the sport itself strongly discourage violent acts. Hell, we just saw a Grand Final decided by that stance…and I’ve yet to see a single person say that Flower shouldn’t have been sent off!

I think the person that summed up this subject best was former Great Britain winger Martin Offiah. On his official twitter page he mentioned that during his career he was physically and verbally targeted about as much as a player could be. Even as he Tweeted about the Ben Flower incident he was being racially abused by people through Twitter.

Offiah’s stance was pretty simple. What happens on the field, stays on the field.

If a player of Offiah’s standing, who was physically targeted and verbally abused throughout his career is willing to take that stance, I think it is hard to argue with it. After all, it is very hard to know where to draw the line.

I think Ben Flower should be harshly dealt with by the governing body. If the Police get involved after that because of a complaint by Hohaia, I wouldn’t argue with it. If everyone is willing to leave it on the field though, that is where it should stay.

Rugby League, like life, isn’t made up of black and white moments. Everything is a shade of grey.

Having watched the incident that unfolded during the Grand Final I’m willing to say that Ben Flower should spend a year on the sidelines, Hohaia should spend a week or two on the sidelines, and everyone in Rugby League should take some lessons out of this.

Lets look at this moment as something to avoid in the future. Lets hope that we never have to consider whether Police need to charge a player for assault for an on field incident ever again.

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