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Duty of care: Public Sporting Races

Article by Umhlanga attorney - Fawzia Khan

What duties do marshalls and organizers of a sporting race owe members of the public?

When members of the public attend various sporting events such as the Comrades Marathon, the Spar Women’s Challenge, in order to lend support to and offer encouragement to the participant athletes, do the organisers of these events or even the athletes themselves owe their supporters [the public] a duty of care that the public would not be harmed by their attendance. In 2014 a woman fell after an athlete ran into her and injured her leg. She claimed damages in excess of R700 000 for her injury from the athlete, Kalmer, and the organizers of the Spar Women’s Challenge 10km races.

The incident occurred when the woman, the plaintiff who was a pedestrian, stepped into the path of the runners in order to retrieve a camera from another person. At that time the athlete, Kalmer, who was running at about 20km/h shouted at the woman to get out of the way, but they collided about 1.5 seconds later. The plaintiff argued that the race organizers were obliged to, but failed to demarcate or cordon off the area used by race participants, so that the members of the public were separated from the runners. She also claimed that the marshals failed to perform their duties adequately’ to protect her. Both the organizers and the athlete Kalmer denied any negligence.

On 19 March 2021, the Western Cape High Court delivered its judgement and found that there no evidence of any negligence by either the organisers or the athlete in question. The court found that the plaintiff must have known that the athletes were moving at speed and that others would soon be approaching. The court also found that the athlete could not have foreseen that the plaintiff would “move into the ‘danger zone’ being the area in which she was running. The judge said that Kalmer was found to be an elite athlete and was a serious contender for points and prizes in the 2014 Grand Prix Series of Spar 10km events. The Court also found that the athlete complied with the rules of the race, running on course and, at the time of the incident itself, she was in the middle of the pavement where she was expected to be running.

With regard to the role of the marshals, the court was satisfied that there was a proper marshal plan in place and that the marshals who were volunteers had attended the requisite briefing regarding their duties on the day and that they had conducted themselves in a proper manner. In fact the court found that even if the marshals were given a whistle to alert the public of the presence of the athlete in the present case, it would still not have prevented the incident from occurring.

Consequently the plaintiff was unable to prove that either the organisers or the athlete were guilty of an act of omission or that they were negligent in causing the plaintiff to sustain her injuries and her claim was dismissed with costs.

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