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Olympic Accidents: Who is Responsible For Sporting Injuries?

The Rio Olympics 2016 had many glorious moments; from Usain Bolt’s historic seventh gold medal, Simone Biles defying gravity, Yusra Mardini’s inspiring 100m butterfly win or Adam Peaty swimming to victory. But where there is blood, sweat and tears poured into these high calibre sporting events, a risk of injury haunts even the world’s Olympians.

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Several athletes have sustained serious injuries at the Rio Olympics—gymnast Samir Ait Said suffered a horrifying broken leg, a cycling accident left Annemiek van Vleuten in intensive care.

Can an injured athlete pursue legal action if they believe the tracks, courses or apparatus are the cause of their injury?  

Cyclists, such as the UK's Chris Froome, have complained about the difficulty of the Olympic cycling courses in Rio. This has been repeated by others, including New Zealand’s George Bennett. Following the shocking crash of Annemiek van Vleuten, who somersaulted over her handlebars and landed heavily in a gutter in similar circumstances as Geraint Thomas, race organiser and former commissaire, Colin Clews, said:  “For there to be so many crashes, it does raise a big question as to whether or not it was appropriate for that particular descent to be used.

“It’s one race, but they’re not out to wreck their careers and they were obviously going down that hill at a speed and in a way that they believed they could have got down to the bottom.”

Former Olympian, Chris Boardman, further commented: “I went down and had a look at the course and saw those edges.

“We knew it was way past being technical; it was dangerous.”

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) who are the governing body of cycling as a sport, said in a statement: “The Rio 2016 road race course was carefully designed and was extensively tested at the test event and in training.

“We do our utmost to design safe, challenging courses but unfortunately crashes do sometimes occur due to a combination of factors.”

In any sport, the body responsible for the sporting activity – be it the Olympics, World Cup or boxing championship – are required by law to take measures to ensure hazards related to activities, substances and situations are minimised.

Athletes are protected by a duty of care by the responsible sports body the same as an employer is responsible for maintaining the health and safety standards in a workplace that allow employees to fulfil their roles without risk of injury.

For more information on this legal and moral duty of care, please see: Duty of Care and Negligence in Sports

Tracey Benson is a personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK, specialising in sports injury claims.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have many years of experience in helping athletes and sportspeople claim compensation for injuries sustained as a result of dangerous or negligent play. Most of our claims are dealt with on a no win no fee basis.

For a free consultation, call our sports injury solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you.

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