Gambling in football – the Scottish perspective
Sport briefing: the Scottish Football Association has had to deal over the past season with a number of breaches of its strict rule against gambling on football. What approach should be taken?
Maintaining and protecting the integrity of sport is central to rules prohibiting gambling by sportspeople. The topic of integrity is increasingly being subjected to critical examination and analysis. All sport organisations require to work hard to ensure that their sports remain a true sporting contest, with the winner declared only following a fair contest on a level playing field. Organisations are focusing ever more on ensuring that their participants are beyond reproach and held to the highest standards of behaviour, for the good of the sport as a whole. In this article, we take a look at the past football season and the gambling cases that have attracted attention.
The SFA’s rules on betting can be found in its General Disciplinary Rules at rule 31 (cf Articles of Association, article 26.1), which states: “No club, official, Team Official or other member of Team Staff, player, match official or other person under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA shall gamble in any way on a football match.” Over the course of season 2016-17, the SFA’s Independent Judicial Panel determined a number of gambling-related cases in response to this absolute prohibition, following various reports and evidence received of alleged breaches.
Joey Barton was one of the first to be sanctioned. He was alleged to have placed 44 bets between 1 June and 15 September 2016. It was not alleged that any bets were placed on or against his own team. The complaint against Barton was upheld by the panel and a one-match suspension imposed. At that time, his club had already terminated Barton’s contract and it was widely anticipated that Barton’s intention was to return to English football.
In early 2017, Dean Brett became the subject of a complaint by the SFA compliance officer following reports that he had allegedly placed 6,369 bets, of which 65 were placed on matches involving his own club, including eight in which he bet that the team would lose. Brett was suspended by the panel for seven matches, four of which were to be served immediately and the remaining three suspended, pending any further breaches of rule 31.
In the recent case of Lewis Horner, the panel opted for a different approach in its sanctioning for breaches of the gambling rules. Horner faced a tribunal after it was alleged that he placed bets between 1 July 2011 and 30 June 2012, as well as between 1 July 2016 and 1 May 2017. Bets placed comprised bets against Horner’s own club as well as other clubs and leagues. Horner admitted the charges against him and the panel imposed an eight match suspended ban. The ban was suspended to allow him to demonstrate good behaviour and undertake treatment, support and/or counselling for an addiction.
It is not just players, however, who have been subject to proceedings; the chairman of a Scottish football club, Henry McClelland, was found to have placed a significant number of bets on football matches between 2011 and 2017. Of those bets, a number were placed against the chairman’s club.
The breaches were admitted and the panel imposed a £3,000 fine, £1,000 payable within 30 days of the hearing date (1 June 2017) and the remaining £2,000 suspended until the end of season 2017-18. The suspended figure will only take effect in the event that McClelland is found in breach of rule 31, or any other SFA disciplinary rule that relates to gambling on football, at any time during that period.
Some may say that the prohibition on gambling advocated by the SFA is too tough, but in reality it is a small price to pay for being involved in the elite end of our national sport. The rules are strict and protect the integrity of football beyond all else, applying to everyone involved in or formally connected to football, covering all bets, on all leagues, worldwide. While the sanctions may be wide ranging and are imposed at the discretion of the panel, the volume of bets and whether the bets involved the individual’s own club are significant features influencing the outcome of any proceedings. Whether we will see more disposals in which education and rehabilitation are promoted, rather than punitive playing or financial elements, will depend on whether more cases come to light. Hopefully the recent cases serve to educate and warn against punting when participating in elite sport.
Laura McCallum, solicitor, Harper MacLeod LLP