Slap fighting is a brutal sport recently given legitimacy by the President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Dana White, who called it the “next big thing” in combat sport.

The goal of slap fighting contests is simple, competitors stand at arm’s length from one another and take turns slapping their opponent in the face. If you move, flinch or tap out – you lose.

However, could you run a slap fighting contest in NSW?

Here’s what you need to know.

Here is more on the types of assaults under the criminal law of NSW.

Regulating Combat Sports in NSW

Combat sports in NSW are regulated by the Combat Sports Act 2013 (NSW) which outlines a number of strict requirements for combat sport contests and participating “combatants”.

A “combat sport” refers to any sport, martial art or activity in which the primary objective of each contestant in a contest, display or exhibition of that sport, art or activity is to strike, kick, hit, grapple with, throw or punch one or more other contestants.

A “combat sport contest” means a contest, display or exhibition of combat sport:

  • to which the public are admitted on payment of a fee, or
  • arranged or held on a for profit basis, or
  • that is held on premises licensed under the Liquor Act 2007 or the Casino Control Act 1992 , or
  • where at least one of the combatants is competing for a monetary prize or other valuable reward, or
  • that is prescribed by the regulations to meet the definition.

The Combat Sports Authority of NSW is responsible for regulating and approving combat sport contests. Any combat sport contest occurring in NSW requires approval by the Authority before it can occur.

All “combatants” or participants in the combat sport contest must also be registered with the Authority and meet certain age and medical requirements. Persons under 14 years of age cannot be registered as combatants in any class, and persons under 18 years of age cannot be registered as professional combatants or compete in any combat sport contest that is held in a cage.

Any combat sport contest which occurs without approval from the Authority or without all combatants appropriately registered could constitute a “street fight” or a “prize fight” and can carry potential criminal consequences.

Unregulated Fights

Participating in an unregulated fight could constitute a criminal offence even if all participants consent.

Whilst a “common assault” which doesn’t result in physical harm can be consented to (R v Bonora (1994) 35 NSWLR), this defence will not apply to assaults occasioning injury, unless there is a “good reason”.

In the influential UK case of R v Brown, the House of Lords upheld the conviction of a group of gay men who engaged in BDSM activities resulting in injuries to their bodies. A range of consensual assaults occurred as part of the discrete play sessions between the men including assaults amounting to actual bodily harm, wounding and grievous bodily harm.

The majority distinguished the unique harms of consensual BDSM from a wide range of other harmful activities where consent has been recognised, including surgery, authorised sporting activities and corporal punishment.  Sadomasochistic desire was found to have no social utility, as there was a real fear it would incentivise behaviours contrary to the public interest.  As Lord Templeton famously stated:

Society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence. Pleasure derived from the infliction of pain is an evil thing. Cruelty is uncivilised.

Whilst the case spoke approvingly of organised boxing competitions as being a “good reason” for consensual assault occasioning injury, this doesn’t extend to unregulated fights.

In R v Coney (1882) 8 QBD 534, the majority of the House of Lords viewed unregulated prize fights as threatening the public interest in the maintenance of good order. According to Lord Coleridge CJ:

I conceive it to be established … that as the combatants in a duel cannot give consent to one another to take away life, so neither can the combatants in a prize-fight give consent to one another to commit that which the law has repeatedly held to be a breach of the peace. An individual cannot by such consent destroy the right of the Crown to protect the public and keep the peace.

Whilst there have been very few recent prosecutions for unregulated prize fights in Australia, the existing authority indicates that participating in a non-approved slap fighting content could give rise to a criminal offence.

So, Is Slap Fighting Legal in NSW?

We contacted the Combat Sports Authority of NSW to determine whether any slap fighting contests have been approved in the state. They responded:

There have never been any requests for permits in relation to face slapping contests, and therefore they have never been considered by the Authority under the Act.

As such, participation in slap fighting contests that have not been approved by the relevant Authority could carry criminal consequences.

By Jarryd Bartle.

Published on 29/03/2023

AUTHOR Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia

Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia are Leading Criminal Defence Lawyers, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Courts.

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