Blog Sports Law 18th Oct 2023


The recent publicity around The FA’s unpublished policy which permits some club owners to bet on football has highlighted some stark inconsistencies at the heart of professional sport’s relationship with betting.

The FA’s rules prohibit participants from betting on football.  The FA Handbook 2023-34 defines “participants” as:

…an Affiliated Association, Competition, Club, Club Official (which for the avoidance of doubt shall include a Director), FA Registered Football Agent, Intermediary, Player, Official, Manager, Match Official, Match Official observer, Match Official coach, Match Official mentor, Management Committee Member, member or employee of a Club and all persons who are from time to time participating in any activity sanctioned either directly or indirectly by The Association

The key parts of Rule E8 provide that:

E8.1 A Participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct, permit, cause or enable any person to bet  on –

E8.1.1 the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in or in connection with, a football match or competition; or

E8.1.2 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.

E8.2 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.

There are, however, notable exceptions to Rule E8.  Club owners who have a financial interest in a betting company benefit from an FA policy which allows their companies to continue to bet on football provided the owner themselves has no direct involvement in setting odds or placing bets and does not pass on any inside information.  The existence of the policy has been reported by the Times and Guardian but it has never been published by the FA.  Those who are subject to this policy are audited to confirm compliance.  Amongst those subject to the policy are the owner of Brighton & Hove Albion FC Tony Bloom, a professional poker player and head of a private betting syndicate; and the Coates family, who own Stoke City FC and Bet365[1].

It has also been alleged recently in the press that Matthew Benham, the owner of Brentford FC, has profited by placing bets on football in his own name through a UK-based gambling syndicate, which may breach the FA’s prohibition on direct involvement. Mr Benham has said that he fully complies with the policy[2].

The public face of the FA’s policy was illustrated when Brentford’s star striker, Ivan Toney, was banned from football for eight months in May for breaching the FA’s betting rules over four years between 2017 and 2021.  His ban was reduced after the Regulatory Commission accepted evidence that Mr Toney suffered from a gambling addiction.

Other sports, perhaps less wedded to the gambling industry than football, have not created a similar exemption for owners.

The RFU and World Rugby prohibit any “connected person” from betting on any rugby match anywhere in the world, directly or through someone else, or from passing on inside information.

A “connected person” is defined as:

Any International Player, Contracted Player, International Match Official, Contracted Player Support Personnel, any coach, trainer, selector, health professional, analyst, team official, administrator, owner, shareholder, director, executive, staff member and/or any other person involved with and/or engaged in relation to the Game by a Union or its National Representative Team and shall include any Union/Association/World Rugby panel of Match Officials at International Match and/or Contracted Player level, Disciplinary Personnel, any Agent and/or representative of an International Player, Contracted Player or Contracted Player Support Personnel and/or family member and/or associate of any of the foregoing (to the extent that such family member/associate falls under the jurisdiction of a Union, Rugby Body and/or the Board) and/or any other individual or entity involved in the organisation, administration and/or promotion of the Game at International Match and/or Contracted Player level and/or the training of persons participating in the Game at International Match and/or Contracted Player level.

All “connected persons” are prohibited from betting or encouraging others to bet on any “connected event”: that being a match, tournament, league or competition that they are involved with.  Contracted players and “contracted player support personnel” (those involved with or engaged by a player, club, team, rugby body or event) are prohibited from betting or encouraging others to bet on any “event” whether or not they are “connected” to it.  There are also prohibitions against the use or disclosure of inside information for the purpose of betting.

The International Cricket Council’s Anti-Corruption Code prohibits “participants” from “corrupt conduct” including betting on international matches or misusing inside information.  The England and Wales Cricket Board’s Anti-Corruption Code extends the prohibition to domestic matches and competition.  Participants are defined as cricketers who have been selected for international or domestic cricket within the past two years and/or are subject to an unexpired ban imposed under anti-corruption rules; “player support personnel” employed by, representing or affiliated with an international or domestic team within the past two years (or subject to an unexpired ban); and ICC officials, match referees, pitch curators, player agents, umpires and umpire support personnel.

“Corrupt conduct” includes:

2.2.1 Placing, accepting, laying or otherwise entering into any Bet with any other party (whether individual, company or otherwise) in relation to the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of any International Match.

2.2.2 Directly or indirectly soliciting, inducing, enticing, instructing, persuading, encouraging, intentionally facilitating or authorising any other party to enter into a Bet in relation to the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of any International Match.

2.3.1 Using any Inside Information for Betting purposes in relation to any International Match.

2.3.2 Disclosing Inside Information to any person where the Participant knew or should have known that such disclosure might lead to the information being used in relation to Betting in relation to any International Match.

The ICC does however allow betting companies to sponsor national teams (although the England and Wales Cricket Board will not allow betting sponsorship of the national team).

Whilst the public interest rationale which prevents participants from betting on their own sport is plainly justified, the wider dependency of many sports on the betting industry is seen by many as increasingly difficult to justify.

Betting companies are allowed to sponsor teams, pay for ground advertising, buy up advertising airtime when matches are broadcast and saturate the area where matches are played with adverts.  Sports’ regulators permit and encourage all of this without providing an adequate level of protection to sports’ fans who are targeted by betting companies and may fall victim to addiction as a result.

The FA’s flexible approach to club owners who are involved in the gambling industry is a further reflection of football’s uneasy relationship with betting.

It seems to us that there is an incompatibility between a ban on betting by participants and sport’s dependence on the revenue from the gambling industry, both directly in sponsorship and indirectly through advertising.  And as the breaking story from Italian Football reminds us, this is not a problem in this country alone, reported by the Times and BBC Sports News.

Sport needs to face the difficult problem of balancing commercial need and social responsibility and begin weaning itself off its dependence on the gambling industry as it did so successfully in terms of its relationship with the tobacco industry in the 1980s and 1990s.  And to that extent the decision of the Premier League to ban gambling sponsorship on the front of shirts from the start of the 2026/27 season is a welcome start, although they could have gone further.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, tobacco sponsorship was commonplace in sport.  Those days are gone now and in the past they must remain.  No one today could conceive of the Benson & Hedges’ Premier League, but we still have the Sky Bet Championship.  Is it time for gambling to follow?


Brian O’Neill KC & Sarah Przybylska

[1] It is not suggested that Mr Bloom or any member of the Coates family has acted improperly.

[2] It is not suggested that Mr Benham has acted improperly

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