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Pie-eating goalkeeper caught offside? Five things you need to know

by Joseph Bryan

What has happened?

Non-league Sutton United’s heroic run to the fifth round of the FA Cup has rightly been celebrated by football fans across the country. But Sutton’s reserve goalkeeper, Wayne Shaw, has hit the headlines for being caught on camera eating a pie as he sat on the substitutes’ bench for the match against Arsenal on Monday evening.

Why is that so serious?

Before the game, a bookmaker had offered odds of 8-1 that Shaw would be filmed eating a pie during the match. Shaw reportedly knew that at least “a few” of his mates or Sutton’s fans had taken up the bet. Shaw is now being investigated by the FA for a potential breach of its betting regulations. (The Gambling Commission has also started a separate investigation against the bookmaker.)

What do the regulations say?

Playing for a fifth-tier club does not exempt Shaw from the FA’s anti-betting regulations. The FA’s Rules provide at rule E8(1) 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; 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.
  • Where a Participant provides to any other person 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, the Participant shall be in breach of this Rule where any of that information is used by that other person for, or in relation to, betting.

This amounts to a worldwide ban on betting on football or any football-related matter. Passing ‘inside information’ to someone who uses the information for betting is also prohibited (although it may be a defence if a player does not know and could not reasonably have known that the information would be used for better). Passing inside information can occur, for instance, by word of mouth, by email or text, in writing or on social media.

What action can the FA take?

The first step, which the FA has already launched, is an inquiry, as part of which the FA has power to call Shaw to answer questions and provide information or any relevant documentary evidence (for example, emails or texts to friends). If the investigation reveals facts giving rise to alleged misconduct, an FA charge is likely to follow.

On a charge the procedures in the FA Regulations for Football Association Disciplinary Action are triggered. The possible penalties include:

  • A reprimand and/or warning as to future conduct.
  • A fine.
  • Temporary or permanent suspension.

If Shaw were found guilty of any charge, relevant mitigating and aggravating factors would be taken into account when setting the penalty. Some such factors were set out in the recent Independent FA Regulatory Commission decision in the Nick Bunyard betting case.

While there is no suggestion that Shaw has himself placed any bets, the FA would consider, among others: (1) the overall perception of the impact of his alleged misconduct on the fixture/game integrity; (2) the fact that Shaw did not play; (3) the surrounding circumstances, including Shaw’s personal circumstances; (4) his previous record and experience; and (5) his assistance to any disciplinary process and acceptance of any charge.

What will happen next?

The key factual question the FA will want to investigate is whether or not Shaw had informed anyone who placed a bet that he would eat a pie during the match, as he eventually did in the 83rd minute. If he did, that may be sufficient to constitute passing inside information. In this regard, the Guardian has quoted Shaw as saying: “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.’

It might be objected that betting on someone eating a pie does not equate to betting on football. But Rule E8(1)(b) is drafted widely: it prohibits passing inside information used “for, or in relation to, betting” – which is, conspicuously, not limited to wagers on on-field matters.

Subject to the FA’s investigation, however, it seems unlikely that any alleged misconduct by Shaw would attract a serious penalty. If he were to cooperate with any disciplinary process, the fact that he did not play nor did he place any bets himself would suggest that a lesser penalty would be appropriate – all the more so given the clearly light-hearted nature of the alleged incident, which could not affect the match result. Whatever the outcome, it is a timely reminder for everyone in football of the strictness of the FA’s stance on participants betting on the sport or passing inside information.

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