THE collision between sport and law can often result in a bone-crunching challenge, but, at the Rugby World Cup, Lorne Crerar managed to shimmy past any rough and tumble – this time.
Professor Crerar, chairman of Harper Macleod LLP, is one of the most senior figures in rugby’s judicial world – and his experience led to him being appointed judicial officer for a number of key games at the tournament, culminating in the final between France and New Zealand.
“Five of us were appointed for the World Cup, but I could only make the last three weeks,” he explains. “It was pretty busy in the early part of the tournament, but I was allocated two quarter-finals, one semi-final and the final, which was very flattering – and I had no incidents to deal with at all.”
The judicial officer deals with sendings-off and citings, hearing from players and their representatives after the event and dispensing what he sees as an appropriate punishment, if any.
At the World Cup in France in 2007, Crerar had to deal with five very high-profile cases, the first involving England captain Phil Vickery, who was banned for two games after admitting a trip on US player Paul Emerick. He also banned for three weeks long-serving Samoan centre Brian Lima for a dangerous tackle on England’s Jonny Wilkinson.
In 2011, Crerar is happy no incidents arose from the games in which he was involved: “When it comes to discipline, we want less work, not more. Fewer cases mean discipline is getting better – and that we have a very robust and transparent regime.
“I think the Rugby World Cup was very successful in that context. As a high physical contact game, rugby’s brand is predicated on that strong disciplinary regime.”
Crerar acknowledges advances in technology have helped dramatically: “You now have about 24 different camera angles and it is much more difficult for players to get away with any act of foul play. Rugby has been very good at embracing technology.”
Although the World Cup was quiet for Crerar, he has one outstanding appeal from an earlier stage to deal with – and he is satisfied that the most contentious decision of the tournament, the sending-off of Wales captain Sam Warburton against France, was correct: “It might not have helped the game be the spectacle it might have been, but in terms of the International Rugby Board (IRB) guidelines, it was absolutely the right decision.”
Does Crerar – chair of the disciplinary panel for the Scottish Rugby Union, the RBS 6 Nations and the European Rugby Cup – feel under pressure when dealing with high-profile cases? “It is very challenging because you sit on your own to make a determination – but at the same time, that makes it an interesting thing to do.
“These are not necessarily nice things to do, but it is important for the brand of the game that you do them.”
Crerar thinks the balance between sport and law is pretty good: “It is easy for people to say that law should not be part of sport but I think we have reached equilibrium.
“I started my sports law practice in 1993 after refereeing in America and its highly litigious environment – and thinking that it would come over here, which it did. Professional sportsmen are incredibly well paid commercial engines and suspensions have hugely significant consequences – so it is only fair that they have the right to be properly legally represented. I think rugby has a pretty fair balance and it is probably the same elsewhere in other sports.”
Crerar adds: “It’s very much a court environment, with players represented by senior counsel, so the legal skills are very important. I’m also very interested in rugby – I was a referee for 20 years and a player before then.”
Crerar has always encouraged colleagues at Harper Macleod to have extra-curricular activities that can benefit the business, and says of his own work: “There is a real synergy – we have a very significant sports practice and for our sports clients, they can see that we understand the market we are in.”
Bruce Caldow, a partner at Harper Macleod, was also at the Rugby World Cup, representing the Scotland team. He also had a relatively quiet time.
As Crerar says: “The England team’s lawyers were probably a lot busier.”