Joey Barton: Just the latest, in a long line, to fall foul of gambling rules

In  the latest in a catalogue of Joey Barton stories, he is now being investigated by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) for breaking football betting rules. The SFA and the gambling commission are investigating claims that Barton placed a bet on rivals, Celtic, to lose heavily at the hands of Barcelona, in their Champions League fixture, earlier this month.

The SFA have strict rules in place to govern and regulate the potential for footballers to gamble in the Scottish game. The rules that apply are Rules 31 and 32 which state the following:

"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. Any such club or person found to have engaged in gambling of any description on football shall be in breach of this rule." (31)

"No club, official, Team Official, other member of Team Staff, player, match official or other person under the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA shall knowingly behave in a manner, during or in connection with a match in which the party has participated or has any influence, either direct or indirect, which could give rise to an event in which they or any third party benefits financially through gambling." (32)

As you can see, all members, falling under SFA jurisdiction, are prohibited from placing bets on any football match across the world and the rule, therefore, extends beyond their own clubs and leagues. There is also a ban on revealing inside information which could give rise to a third party benefiting financially. Sanctions applied will usually include a fine along with a match suspension, usually between 3 and 16 matches, depending on severity. 

Barton is unlikely to receive a significant sanction as it does not appear as if there has been any suggestion of match-fixing but the level of any sanction will depend on the nature and extent of bets placed. 

**Update: Barton was given a one match suspension, in November, by the SFA for breaking their betting rules and admitting to placing 44 bets between 01 July 2016 and 15 September 2016.

On 23 December 2016, the FA confirmed that Barton had been charged with misconduct, again in relation to betting offences. He is alleged to have placed 1,260 bets on football matches over a 10 year period.**

However, this is not the first time the SFA has had to deal with its' members breaching gambling rules. Steven Lawless, of Partick Thistle, received a 6 match ban (with four games suspended) after he allegedly had placed bets on over 500 games between 2012 and 2015 and Ian Black, then of Rangers FC, received a 10 match suspension along with a fine of £7,500 after he admitted a breach of the SFA's gambling regulations. Black was accused of betting on 160 matches including ten that involved his own club. 

The SFA's English counterparts have been faced with the same problem and in 2014 underwent  a complete overhaul of their gambling rules, in light of Andros Townsend (then Tottenham Hotspur), Cameron Jerome (then Stoke City) and Dan Gosling (then Newcastle Utd) all being on the other end of a disciplinary hearing for breach of gambling rules, with Townsend receiving a 4 month ban.

Formerly, footballers playing within the jurisdiction of the FA, were only banned from betting on matches in which their own club was involved. New provisions now see a total ban on professional players from betting on any matches played worldwide. Similar to the SFA, there is also a ban on betting on other football business such as transfer of players, team selection and manager appointments as well as releasing insider information.

How do foreign jurisdictions deal with footballer gambling & corruption? 


In 2014, the French football league, Ligue de Football Professionnel, sanctioned 87 players after they were found guilty of breaching rules on betting. Under French league rules, footballers who fall under their jurisdiction, are prohibited from placing bets on any fixtures in the league. This is a stark difference from Scotland and England, whereby players are prevented from betting on any fixtures worldwide, regardless of league or club. In sanctioning said players, the French NGB handed down fines and suspensions, to the guilty parties, with community service, for those who had also been found guilty of betting against their own clubs. Community service, of course, a sanction that differs from here in the UK. 


Italy has seen some of the most major corruption scandals in sporting history and in 2006, some of the biggest clubs and individuals, in Serie A, found themselves at the centre of match-fixing allegations. The scandal was uncovered whilst Italian prosecutors were investigating another allegation of doping, at Italy's biggest and most successful football club, Juventus. The scandal centred around phone taps which appeared to show key figures putting pressure on referees to favour certain clubs and outcomes. Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio were all in the fold and the outcome was very serious indeed with all four clubs being thrown out of European competitions. Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina had all qualified for the Champions League, whilst Lazio were due to play in the UEFA Cup (now Europa). However, worse was to come, with AC Milan being deducted 15 points for the next season by Italian authorities and Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio all being demoted to Serie B and deducted points. This meant that Juventus would start their following season 30 points behind their rivals and also had their last two league titles stripped. A lesson learned? Not likely! In June 2011, a number of football figures were arrested by Italian police for alleged match-fixing (I told you they hadn't learned their lesson), the list of figures included some very well-known Italian figures including now Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte. The allegation was that they had fixed a wide range of matches from Serie B, Lega Pro Prima Divisione and Lega Pro Seconda Divisione. Sanctions included several match bans and significant fines. Club involvement saw sanctions including points deductions and relegation, where appropriate. 

Match-fixing & corruption across other sports

Gambling has always had a long-standing relationship with many sports, not just football. Gambling related corruption is increasingly being recognised as a real risk to the integrity of sporting events and is fast becoming a headache for National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and International Sports Federations (ISFs). In an attempt to tackle this risk, education initiatives have been put in place to teach players on the code of conduct rules and the risks of gambling as well as the sanctions attached if rules are breached. NGBs and ISFs now actively pursuing those involved in gambling and match-fixing and issuing significant punishments as a stark warning. Specialised investigatory bodies are set up to track down those engaging in corrupt activities and provide details to the relevant authorities so that sanctions can be imposed.

When it comes to fixing contests, there are two main channels in which a sports contest can be manipulated: (1) match-fixing and (2) spot-fixing.

What is determined as match-fixing? 
Match-fixing can be described as dishonest activity to make sure that one team/person wins a particular sports competition, usually to the financial benefit to those gambling and backing the correct outcome.

What is determined as spot-fixing?
Spot-fixing is where a particular event, within a contest, but unrelated to the outcome, is pre-determined so that gamblers can a place a bet on it. Such an example would be timing a no-ball in cricket, or timing the first corner in a football game.

It is important to note that the above can result in not only sanctions from the NGB/ISF but also criminal charges.

R v Majeed, Butt, Asif and Amir (unreported), Southwark Crown Court

This case involved the prosecution of four Pakistani cricketers who were alleged to have taken part in 'spot-fixing' by agreeing to bowl a number of no-balls in their Test match, against England. Majeed, who represented a number of Pakistani cricketers, acted as an intermediary when arranging the 'fix', what he didn't realise was that he wasn't actually dealing with a gambling syndicate, but instead sealing the deal with a News of the World undercover reporter. The no-balls were bowled, as agreed, and all four cricketers took their share of the cash offered by the reporter. All four were charged under English statute, Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, with Majeed and Amir pleading guilty to charges against them and Butt and Asif found guilty at trial.  The outcome, at Southwark Crown Court, was as follows:

Majeed: 32 months in prison
Butt: 30 months in prison and a 10 year playing ban
Asif: 12 months in prison and 7 year ban
Amir: 6 months in prison and a 5 year ban

NGBs will not always defer their cases to the Courts, however, and can choose to deal with it through their own Commissions. In Re Quinn, Fitzsimmons, Doe, Fairley, Milczarek and others, the British Horse Racing Authority banned five jockeys for between 6 and 12 years after allegations were proven that owners and gamblers had paid the jockeys not to win so that they could place bets against them. In this case, the owners were also banned for 14 years from any involvement in horse-racing.

As demonstrated, bans for sports related corruption are lengthy and significant at both court and NGB level, and can signal the end of one's career. This stance has only been strengthened by cases coming out of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which has upheld life bans on sportspersons found to be guilty of sports-related corruption (namely tennis players, David Savic, of Serbia, and Daniel Koellerer, of Austria). The length of such bans is said to be reasonable and proportionate as a result of the effect that corruption has on the nature and integrity of sport. 

Corruption in sport remains an increasing concern for sports authorities. Where possible, education should be provided to players and other sport-connected persons so that they do not fall foul of gambling rules, that could potentially leave them vulnerable to questions of integrity, but also in a bid to deal with and combat any offers of financial incentives, by organised criminal syndicates, to manipulate a sporting match.

IMPORTANT: This post is not intended to be a legal briefing, it is not intended to be a statement of the law and no action should be taken in reliance on it without specific legal advice.

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