Legal Cultures and the Regulation of Coaching Practice: Different Jurisdictions, Different Approaches?

By Steve Greenfield

In all the four countries discussed sport plays a significant role within society and has been used as a vehicle for the delivery of a range of policy objectives. In England and Wales this has varied from health through to aspects of criminal justice. As negligence liability has developed, within each legal system, those involved in the organization, administration and delivery of sport have become subject to both actual and potential liability. This may have serious consequences for sport as an area of civil society, coaching practices and indeed coaches. This paper charts the civil liability and subsequent regulation of coaches, within 3 jurisdictions that all have historical roots in the English Common Law system. It also introduces a fourth non-legal approach to potential coach liability, for injury compensation, through New Zealand’s no fault compensation scheme established under the Accident Compensation Act 1972. A key consideration is the extent to which the history and culture of the national legal system has shaped and informs the contemporary approach to coach liability.

  1. England & Wales: ‘Unrestricted’ negligence liability
    The common law tort of negligence has developed through the application of general principles since 1932 and coaches have never enjoyed any privileged protected status to alleviate liability whilst limited State intervention has proved ineffective.
  2. USA: State Volunteer Immunity from suit
    The negligence liability of coaches for injuries suffered by athletes has been qualified by the concept of sovereign immunity in the public sector. Furthermore the federal system has permitted States to directly intervene to protect volunteer coaches through Volunteer Protection Acts though on a piecemeal basis.
  3. South Africa: Liability moved from individual educators to State Level
    Schools Act 84/1996 s 60: Teachers in Public Schools who are coaching are not personally liable for damages in negligence for injuries to pupils – liability rests with the State itself.
  4. New Zealand: Removing Liability from coaches
    The application, since 1974, of a State run no fault compensation scheme provides an alternative route to those injured by coach negligence.
The paper will explore similarities and differences in legal systems, cultures and outcomes for coaches. A fundamental question is whether the historical roots and the legal culture have become insurmountable obstacles to change.


  • Liability
  • Negligence
  • State
  • Legal culture
  • Coaching
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