World Rugby Disciplinary Regulations | Fieldfisher
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World Rugby Disciplinary Regulations



Owen Farrell's overturned red card has brought World Rugby and the Rugby Disciplinary Process into the headlines. We have taken a look at the disciplinary process within World Rugby which is the governing body of Rugby Union.
Foul play during a match is penalised by the on-field match officials. For more serious foul play, players may be required to attend a disciplinary hearing in accordance with Regulation 17 of the World Rugby Regulations.

What is an act of foul play?

An act of foul play is a dangerous act that is intentional (the player acted deliberately) or reckless (the player knew or should have known that there was a risk of committing an act of foul play but carried on anyway). If an act was accidental, then there was no foul play.

If a player is cited or receives a red card the player must attend a disciplinary hearing.

Disciplinary Hearing Process

A disciplinary hearing is chaired by a Judicial Officer, who is a legal practitioner or serving or retired judge, with appropriate rugby knowledge. The Judicial Officer is joined by two panel members who are former players, coaches or referees. There are four stages in the disciplinary hearing process. The standard of proof at a disciplinary hearing is on the balance of probabilities.

First stage-"Red Card Test"

The Disciplinary Committee (the "Committee") first asks if the player accepts or denies that there was an act of foul play and that it deserved a red card. If the player accepts, then the first stage of the hearing is over and the Committee will move on to deciding the appropriate sanction. If the player denies, the Committee reviews all the evidence and listens to the player and then makes a decision. If the Committee decides that the action did not deserve a red card the hearing ends and the player is not sanctioned and is free to play again. Regulation 17.24.2(b) provides that World Rugby, the Host Union or the Tournament Organiser can lodge an appeal to an Appeal Committee from a decision of a Committee no later than 72 hours following notification to the appealing party of the decision. If the Committee decides that the act of foul play deserved a red card they move on to the second stage of the hearing which is deciding on the appropriate sanction.

Second stage-Sanctioning

The Committee chooses the correct starting point for the players sanction in accordance with the guidance set out in Appendix 1 of Regulation 17.

Every act of foul play has a specified sanction. The conduct of the Player can be categorised as being at the lower end, mid-range or top-end of the scale of seriousness. The sanction is the number of weeks for which the player is suspended and cannot play in matches.

For example, in the case of a dangerous high tackle and contact is made with the opponent's head, the Committee are obliged to impose at least a mid-range sanction which has a starting point of 6 weeks.

Third Stage- Aggravating and Mitigating factors

The third step in the process is where the Committee decides whether there are any reasons to increase the sanction. If any of the following factors are present the Committee might decide to increase the sanction:
  1. The player's status generally as an offender of the Laws of the Game
  2. The need for a deterrent to combat a pattern of offending in the game
  3. Any other off-field aggravating factor(s) that the Disciplinary Committee or Judicial Officer considers relevant and appropriate.

Next the Committee considers whether there are any reasons to decrease the sanction. The maximum reduction possible is 50% from the starting point. If any of the following factors are present the Committee might decide to reduce the sanction:
  1. The presence and timing of an acknowledgement of the commission of foul play by the offending player
  2. The player's disciplinary record
  3. The youth and/or inexperience of the player
  4. The player's conduct prior to and at the hearing
  5. The player having demonstrated remorse for his/her conduct to the victim player including the timing of such remorse
  6. Any other off-field mitigating factor(s) that the Disciplinary Committee or Judicial Officer considers relevant and appropriate.
This is not an exhaustive list.

Fourth Stage- Imposition of Sanctions

The final step for the Committee is working out the total sanction for the player. In cases of multiple offending, the Committee may impose sanctions to run either on a concurrent or a consecutive basis provided that the total sanction is in all the circumstances proportionate to the level of the overall offending. Players are free to appeal any decision within 48 hours of the date on which the decision has been notified.

World Rugby have confirmed that they will appeal the decision of the Committee in respect of Owen Farrell. This appeal will be heard by an independent Appeal Committee, which will comprise of 3 members. Regulation 17.24.9 provides that an appeal should, where reasonably practicable, be heard within 7 days after its lodgement.   

Written by Sinéad Taaffe and Nicole Harney

Areas of Expertise

Public and Regulatory