11 December 2009 ~ Dean Ashton may be about to raise questions about the legitimacy of legal action within the realms of competitive sport. The 26-year-old West Ham striker, who hasn't played for 15 months, has announced his retirement having failed to fully recover from an ankle injury originally sustained on international duty in August 2006.
Ashton's retirement has prompted suggestions in the media, notably from the Telegraph, that he is considering mounting a legal case against both Shaun Wright-Phillips and his then employers Chelsea. It is thought he will claim Wright-Phillips's challenge in an England training session ended his football career, while Chelsea could also potentially face a vicarious liability claim, a charge the Blues would undoubtedly challenge as he was with England at the time and therefore under the care of the FA.
Meanwhile, West Ham themselves are likely to launch a £7 million compensation claim against the FA in a bid to recoup the fee they paid for the striker when they bought him from Norwich City in January 2006. A potential stumbling block for the claims, however, is the fact that Ashton would have to prove that he never recovered, though it will undoubtedly be argued his 35 appearances for the Hammers since the original injury suggest otherwise.
Only last week former Charlton Athletic midfielder Matty Holmes was awarded £250,000 in damages following a tackle by Wolves' Kevin Muscat in 1998 and if Ashton is successful it could open the door for several other players to launch legal battles, but at what cost? Will players be forced to think about the consequences of their tackles before they go in for them? And if so, will the instinctive and competitive nature of the game be lost? The Ashton case, if it ever starts, may provide some answers. Gareth Burton