Caught out by the FA Rules, is it worth the gamble?
The FA Regulatory Commission has issued former Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge with a six-week ban from playing football, four weeks of which have been suspended until 31 August 2020, together with a fine for £75,000 after having been found guilty of breaching the FA betting Rules.
Having been initially charged in November 2018, Sturridge faced a total of 11 charges from the FA, only 2 of which were deemed proved by the Regulatory Commission.
These two charges concerned two instances when Sturridge had given clear instructions to his brother, Leon, to bet on a possible move by Sturridge to Sevilla FC in the January 2018 transfer window. As a result of those instructions, Sturridge was found to be as a matter of fact, providing ‘inside information’.
The Regulatory Commission, whilst noting that the term ‘inside information’ was not itself referred to in the FA Rules, deemed the term to mean ‘any information relating to football which the Participant has obtained by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available at that time’.
Players are prohibited by the FA Rules from gambling on any footballing activity in which they have direct or indirect involvement. As well as games, that can include transfers, managerial changes or team selection.
Sturridge was found to have breached Rule E8(1)(a)(ii) which stipulates that:
“A participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct, permit, cause or enable any person to bet on
- the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in or in connection with, a football match or competition; or
- any other matter concerning or related to football anywhere in the world, including, for example and without limitation, the transfer of players, employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters.”
What is unusual about the case is that Sturridge did not himself place a bet personally and, despite the instruction given to his brother Leon, no bet was ever actually made.
However, the Regulatory Commission found that the relevant prohibition on betting is against a
Participant instructing any person to bet. The Regulatory Commission saw ‘no justification for adding the further requirement that a bet is actually placed. The FA could have inserted this additional
requirement into the Rule if this was its intention, but it did not.’
This therefore demonstrates the seriousness with which the FA Rules are to be enforced in regards to the prohibition on betting, on the basis that even the action of instructing someone to place a bet is enough to constitute a breach of the Rules.
It was noted by the Regulatory Commission that this was the first case of its kind in the sense of, the player in question never placed the bet and secondly, no bet was actually ever placed. Even the FA was unable to provide previous cases of sufficient factual similarity to assist the Commission, particularly in regard to the appropriate penalty to impose.
With no guidelines to follow then, the Regulatory Commission settled on a 6-week ban, only 2 weeks of which are to be imposed immediately, with the remaining 4 weeks suspended until August 2020. This means that if Sturridge does not breach the FA Rules again before 31 August 2020, he won’t be on the receiving end of those additional four weeks. Considering this together with the fact that Sturridge’s bank balance is unlikely to be hit too heavily by the £75,000.00 fine, based on his rumoured previous salary, arguably Sturridge isn’t really going to be punished for his breach of the Rules, given that he can start playing football again on 31 July 2019 which is something that Aston Villa seem keen to take advantage of.
It comes as no surprise that the FA, who originally wanted to impose a minimum 6 month ban on Sturridge, now wish to appeal the decision of the Regulatory Commission for being too lenient and for dismissing the other 9 charges against Sturridge, but it will be interesting to see whether the finding is revisited by the Appeals Tribunal. The FA will be concerned that the fairly lenient punishment will create a dangerous precedent.
Naturally though, the FA’s ‘no-nonsense’ stance on betting in football by players, even those who are indirectly involved with betting, does raise some questions particularly because of the profit that the FA itself makes from allowing clubs to do deals with betting companies and the revenue that betting brings in for the sport. We have to look no further than the premier league to see that no less than 7 teams are sponsored by gambling companies and the newly released Huddersfield Town kit sponsored by Paddy Power which proudly displays its sash of sponsorship for all to see.
It does, therefore, beg the question of whether it is possible to take such a strict approach on betting in football, and whether the Rules are for protection or, more so one rule for some and another rule for others.
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