Laura McCallum, solicitor at Harper Macleod explains the legal implications of Sutton United’s ‘Pie-gate’ scandal.

On 20 February 2016, the FA Cup fixture between Sutton United and Arsenal turned into a media frenzy and one to remember, for all the wrong reasons.

In the 83rd minute of the game, and after all substitutions had been used, Sutton United reserve goal-keeper, Wayne Shaw, bit off more than he could chew when he emerged from the dug-out eating a pie and caught the attention of the whole of the UK… and the sports small

The scenario may all seem a bit innocent but prior to the fixture, bookmaker Sun Bets, who also sponsored Sutton United for the tie, was promoting odds of 8/1 that Shaw would eat a pie during the game.

What’s the big deal you might ask? Well following the game, Shaw admitted that, prior to the fixture, he was aware of the bet and the odds offered and that some of his mates & the fans had put a bet on.

He said: “A few of the lads said to me earlier on what is going on with the 8/1 about eating a pie?’ I said: ‘I don’t know, I’ve eaten nothing all day, so I might give it a go later on … Sun Bets had us at 8/1 to eat a pie. I thought I would give them a bit of banter and let’s do it.”

Shaw was asked if he was aware of anyone who had placed the bet and he replied: ‘I think there were a few people. Obviously we are not allowed to bet. I think a few of the mates and a few of the fans. It was just a bit of banter for them. It is something to make the occasion as well and you can look back and say it was part of it and we got our ticket money back.’

The bookmaker later confirmed on Twitter that it had paid out a five figure sum on the bet. Less than 24 hours later, it was reported that the FA and Gambling Commission had both launched independent investigations. On the back of that, further reports thereafter confirmed that Shaw had resigned from the club, in tears.

Social media users were quick to crack jokes, joining in with the ‘banter’ and for once even Gary Lineker and Piers Morgan agreed on something which was that this had all gotten out-of-hand and blown out of proportion.

However, integrity is no laughing matter and is central not just to football, but sport in general. All sport organisations are required to work hard to ensure that their sporting contests are free from corruption. Given that, it is important that any allegation, whether related to the field of play or not, is investigated, no matter how trivial it may appear.

In terms of English football, the FA introduced a worldwide ban on participants betting in football, in 2014.

However, the scope of the ban is wide and does not just include placing bets directly on the result of matches – it also covers causing or enabling others to place bets on a whole range of wagers related to a game of football.

The rules in relation to betting can be found under Rule E8 of the FA’s Rules and Regulations which state:-

A Participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct, permit, cause or enable any person to bet on –

(i) the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, a football match or competition; or

  1. 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.

The rules go on further to state 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, a football match or competition:

(A) in which the Participant is participating, or has participated in that season; or

(B) in which the Participant has any influence, either direct or indirect;

It should be noted that participants do not only include players but also include referees, coaches and employees of clubs.

In this particular case, it could be argued that Shaw caused or enabled others to place the bet as he was aware of the wager and the odds, prior to the game. He willingly took steps that he may not have taken previously, to enable others to successfully cash-out on their bets.

This would, thus, be a breach of the rules despite the fact that his action does not directly relate to the outcome of the match. Rule E8 is thus designed to also catch such activities.

Impact on Employment

Integrity is very important to employers in terms of trust and confidence. As a member of Sutton United, Shaw will have been subject to a code of conduct.

Under the employment contract, employees have a duty to ensure that one’s actions, on and off the pitch, do not bring the club into disrepute, as well as damage the integrity of the game.

Sportspersons in general have a duty to abide by certain standards of behavior by being a member of the particular club, association or sport governing body.

The rules on general conduct are usually wide in scope and require sportspersons to act in the best interest of the club and not act in an improper manner. A breach of the conduct rules could result in misconduct and thus, termination of employment.

Final Thoughts

This case highlights that ‘participants’ who partake in betting on any occurrence in sport is still a serious issue and any allegation will be investigated. The damage that corruption can do to a sport has previously been seen in both cricket, tennis and snooker.

The evidence discovered, as a result of any investigation, is a separate matter and evidently, would form the basis for any action against a player.

As a final note, when Shaw was discussing the bet, one thing that stood out was that he possibly lacked understanding of the wide scope of the betting rules.

Shaw stated in one interview “obviously, we are not allowed to bet”, this suggests that he was possibly not aware that he was also barred from enabling others to bet and that eating the pie, would effectively breach the rules.

It would be interesting to know whether anyone at the club was aware of the bet and what Shaw was about to do, and advised him against it.

There is a responsibility on the part of the club also to advise their players and the integrity of the club would be maintained, in the event that the manager told Shaw not to do it.

Corruption in sport remains an increasing concern for sporting clubs and governing bodies. Where possible, further education and pointers should be provided to sportspersons so that they aware of how wide the scope of the regulations are, in order to avoid falling foul of betting rules, that could potentially leave them vulnerable to questions of integrity and looking at dismissal from their employment.

Laura McCallum (@laurasportslaw) – Harper Macleod

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