It was reported yesterday that Rangers football player Joey Barton has been charged by the Scottish Football Association (the “SFA”) for placing 44 bets on football matches. It has been alleged that Barton placed the bets between 1 July and 15 September 2016. He has been given until 12 October 2016 to respond to the charge, with a principal hearing having been scheduled for 27 October 2016.

This is certainly not the first time that a football player has been found to have breached the relevant rules and regulations concerning betting on football matches:

  • On 20 February 2016, the Norwich City striker Kyle Lafferty was fined £23,000 by the Football Association (the “FA”) for placing a bet on a match;
  • In March 2014, Dan Gosling, now of AFC Bournemouth, was fined £30,000 by the FA for multiple breaches of the FA rules;
  • On 14 August 2013, Cameron Jerome, now of Stoke City, was fined £50,000 for a number of breachesof the FA rules;
  • On 4 June 2013, the England forward Andros Townsend was fined £18,000 by the FA and suspended for four months, though three of those months were suspended until 1 July 2016.

While none of the players above were found to have placed bets on matches in which their respective clubs participated, their conduct was nonetheless found to have been in breach of the rules of the FA and, in the case of Barton, the SFA.

The relevant rules concerning player betting in Scotland and England are explained below.

The position in Scotland

Rule 31 of the SFA Disciplinary Rules (set out in the SFA Judicial Panel Protocol) prohibits players from “gambling in any way on a football match”. The SFA Disciplinary Rules set out a scale of sanctions applicable to any breach of this rule, with the minimum sanction for players in breach of this provision being a three match suspension. The maximum sanction is a fine of £100,000 and/or a suspension and/or an expulsion from participation in football.

Rule 31A of the SFA Disciplinary Rules, while similar to Rule 31, extends the prohibition to a ban on placing bets “of any description on football”. The minimum and maximum sanctions for a breach are the same as for a breach of Rule 31.

It is also noteworthy that Rule 32 of the SFA Disciplinary Rules prohibits players from knowingly behaving in a manner, during or in connection with a match in which the player has participated or has any influence, which could give rise to an event in which they (or any third party) benefits financially through gambling. The minimum sanction for a player found to be in breach of this provision is a three month suspension from all football, while the maximum sanction is a fine of £1 million and/or a suspension and/or an expulsion from participation in football.

The rules are therefore clear: players are prohibited from gambling in any way on football matches and from placing bets of any description, where such bets are connected with football. The SFA retains the discretion to impose severe sanctions for breaches of the rules.

The position in England

The prohibition on betting in English football is set out in Rule E.8 of the FA Rules and Regulations (the “FA Rules”). Players are prohibited from betting, either directly or indirectly, or instructing, permitting, causing or enabling any person to bet on:

  • The result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, a football match or competition; or
  • Any other matter concerning or related to football anywhere in the world, including in respect of the transfer of players, the employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters.

It is interesting to note that the prohibition extends not only to all matches played under the auspices of the FA, but also to “any football match or competition sanctioned by UEFA, or FIFA, or by any other association, federation or governing body.” In effect, this is an international blanket ban on players placing bets on football.

As well as this general prohibition, the FA Rules also set out specific prohibitions that bind players. More particularly, players are prohibited by Rule E.8(2)(a) of the FA Rules from betting, instructing, permitting, causing or enabling any person to bet on (a) matches in which they are participating (or in which they have participated) (b) matches in which they have any influence or (c) any other matter concerning or relating to any club participating in a competition that the player in question is participating in (or has participated in during the season in question). Players are also specifically prohibited from betting on matches played at Under 18 level or below.

A player will also be in breach of the FA Rules if they provide to any other person information relating to football which they have obtained by virtue of their position (and which is not in the public domain) and that information is used by the other person for, or in relation to, betting. This rule is set up to prevent against the provision of insider information and other related corruption offences. It is however possible for a player to defend such a charge by establishing, on the balance of probability, that he provided such information in circumstances where he did not know, and could not reasonably have known, that the information would be used in relation to betting.

Again, the position is clear. Betting by players on football matches or football-related activity is strictly forbidden by the FA.

Preventing players from betting on football

The position under the SFA Disciplinary Rules and the FA Rules could not be any clearer. The stringency of these rules is vital to protect the integrity of football and to guard against match fixing and corruption offences. The question that then arises is why so many players keep falling foul of the rules.

When the FA Rules were strengthened in respect of betting offences ahead of the 2014-2015 season, the FA embarked on an education and awareness drive to ensure that players and clubs were fully aware of the rules. That process involved the FA’s representatives visiting clubs across the country to talk players, management and employees through the changes. The FA also produced educational films on betting, inside information and match fixing along with literature, from posters to leaflets, to help remove any ambiguity and to ensure that the anti-betting message is understood. It cannot therefore be a defence for players to say that they are unaware of the rules, particularly in circumstances where some very high profile players have been fined and/or suspended in recent years.

This has not appeared to dissuade players from continuing to place bets. Perhaps it is easy for a player to think that they will get away with betting, particularly when this can be done from the comfort of their home, or on the go via their mobile telephone. Or perhaps it is tempting to ask what difference a bet will make in the grand scheme of things, particularly when the player does not have any interest or involvement in the match. Either way, with the possible sanctions that are at the disposal of the FA and the SFA, the biggest gamble is deciding to place the bet in the first place.