Volunteer sports organisations question liability related to athletes’ health

Date: Jan 14, 2020

Sports clubs and recreational organisations in southeastern Australia are increasingly concerned by the hazardous air quality levels caused by smoke produced from the ongoing wildfires in the region – widely reported as the worst seen in many years. Specifically, organisers are concerned about who would be legally responsible for any potential negative health consequences that could befall their young athletes as the result of practising or competing in smoky conditions, the Australian Financial Review reported.

Australian organised sports wrestle to safely schedule events amid poor air quality
Last December, the Australian Institute of Sport and the New South Wales Public Health Unit published non-binding recommendations regarding when organised outdoor athletic activities should be rescheduled, specifying an Air Quality Index limit of 150 for non-asthmatics and 100 for those with impaired respiratory function. At the beginning of January 2020, the cities of Sydney and Canberra respectively saw peak AQI levels of 518 and 465.

In the case of suburban sports clubs with high numbers of participants that are run almost exclusively by volunteers, some have been forced to come up with their own guidelines for greenlighting activities that consider a number of factors – not just AQI. In one situation involving a Little Athletics club, its leaders are also determining whether activities should be rescheduled based on temperature, humidity, the type of training or event planned and its expected duration.

At the professional level, for example, accommodations such as indoor playing facilities with HVAC systems to control air quality have allowed for more flexibility in making decisions. In their recent decision to allow the Australian Open grand slam to proceed “as scheduled” amid the raging bushfires, organisers argued that three stadiums have retractable roofs, according to a Sports Star report.

Are volunteer organisers liable for athletics’ safety?
For many major recreational sports organisations like Little Athletics that cover the specifics of volunteers’ liability for most injuries or medical issues that athletes might sustain, respiratory illnesses are usually not included.

One Australian lawyer said that she expects in any case, volunteers in recreational sporting clubs would most likely not be held liable for any issues resulting from holding outdoor events during the wildfires – mostly because parents allow their children to participate in such conditions. Schools, she said, are more likely to be held liable for any issues caused in student athletes, because they are expected to keep children safe even off the field in the classroom.

Can affected athletes file for a liability claim?
Considering the situation facing southeastern Australia’s organised sports in dealing with keeping their athletes safe in smoky conditions as wildfires continue to rage, you may be entitled to compensation if you sustained any health issues as a result depending on the scenario. Contact Gerard Malouf & Partners today to find out how our expert team of personal injury lawyers can help you.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.