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Soccer-assault case overturned

Judge rules 2009 incident not criminal but part of game

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Upon further review, there is no foul on the play.

A Manitoba judge has overturned a unique criminal case, ruling what happened on the field during a July 2009 adult soccer match has no business in the courts.

Greg Adamiec, 28, was convicted of assault causing bodily harm following a trial in 2011. But Queen's Bench Justice Chris Mainella said Wednesday the incident was an unfortunate part of the game -- and not a criminal act.

He granted an appeal by Adamiec and entered an acquittal, despite clear evidence the victim suffered serious, long-lasting injuries.

"George Orwell warned that lurking behind the fun offered by competitive sports is the threat of the arousal of 'the most savage combative instincts,' " Mainella wrote in his 22-page decision. "Such ferocious antagonism occurred one summer evening in Winnipeg during an amateur soccer match between the Kildonan Cavaliers and the Polonia Soccer Club. A rough play during that contest raises the difficult legal controversy of: When does misconduct during sport become a crime?"

The Crown now has 30 days to decide whether it will file its own appeal. It's also possible the case could end up before the Supreme Court of Canada on the grounds a significant legal issue is at stake.

Adamiec collided with Cavaliers goalie Scott Keast, 37, as they both sought to control the ball in front of the Cavaliers goal. Keast had wrapped his arms around both the ball and Adamiec's legs. Adamiec kicked himself free, and in the process struck Keast several times in the chest and head, court was told.

The entire incident lasted less than three seconds, according to witnesses. The referee produced a yellow card on the play. Adamiec was cautioned for "unsporting behaviour" and play resumed. He was not given a red card, which would have booted him from the game. However, Keast left the match shortly afterward as a result of his injuries.

Police were later called and an investigation began, which resulted in the charge against Adamiec.

At a two-day trial, provincial court Judge Janice LeMaistre found Adamiec's actions went beyond acceptable sporting conduct and constituted assault. She sentenced him to 12 months of probation and ordered him to pay Keast $1,500 in medical costs.

At his appeal earlier this year, defence lawyer Greg Brodsky argued the Manitoba Major Soccer League is a highly competitive one where all players, including Keast, give "implied consent" to a degree of violence and injury.

Mainella said Wednesday there's no doubt tensions were high when Adamiec and Keast's teams squared off that day.

"There was historic enmity between the teams. Play that day was grotty and combative; it was marred by unsportsmanlike conduct and rough play. Six yellow cards were shown by the referee, Billy Senior, for various fouls," Mainella wrote.

Still, the judge ruled Adamiec's "reckless" actions were adequately dealt with under the existing rules of soccer and should not have gone any further. Mainella called this an unfortunate mishap that happened during "a legitimate sporting purpose in the heat of the moment."

"There is an important distinction between 'going for the ball' during play, which is legitimate sport, and 'going for the victim,' which is not," he wrote. "Struggle for control of the ball is part of the essence of soccer, particularly close to a goal."

Keast admitted during the trial he's suffered numerous bruises and even broken bones while playing soccer over the years, which Mainella said further supports his finding.

At trial, court was told Keast spent several months undergoing treatment and physiotherapy for a hip pointer, broken hyoid bone and deep bruises to much of his upper body. In a victim-impact statement, Keast said he fell into a deep depression and had suicidal thoughts.

Mainella warned his decision doesn't give soccer players the green light to do whatever they want on the pitch. He referenced a handful of other Canadian court decisions in which athletes were found guilty of violent acts that occurred during the play.

Will this ruling make it tougher to teach children about fair play in sports? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2013 A4


Updated on Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 7:12 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

9:18 AM: Adds court document.

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