An Independent Regulatory Commission (the Commission) of the English Football Association (the FA) has fined Paul Scholes, the ex-Manchester United and England international, £8,000 and warned him as to his future conduct after he admitted an FA misconduct charge. The charges brought against Scholes, which relate to 140 bets he placed on matches between August 17, 2015 and January 12, 2019, are just another in a long line of similar cases against players, ex-professionals and managers.
Specifically, Scholes was alleged to have breached Rule E8(1) of the FA Rules and Regulations (FA Rules), which provides that “participants” are prohibited from betting on “the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in or connection with, a football match of competition”. A participant may be deemed to have breached Rule E8(1) irrespective of their ability to influence the outcome of the match in question, their connection with the teams involved or the level of the competition concerned, although these would of course be taken into consideration by the Commission when determining the appropriate sanction.
At the time of the bets in question, Scholes was a director of Salford City Football Club (Salford City), and as such was considered to be a “participant” for the purposes of Rule E. Although none of the 140 bets Scholes placed related to Salford City directly, three categories of bets were identified which led to the FA charge:
- Eight bets involving Manchester United FC, Scholes’ former club until the 2012-2013 season and the then employer of two of his friends, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs;
- One bet involving Valencia CF beating FC Barcelona at a time when Gary Neville, one of Scholes’ co-owners at Salford City, was manager of Valencia; and
- Eight bets on FA Cup matches, although these were made after Salford City had been knocked out of the tournament.
Scholes did not dispute the fact that he placed the bets himself but claimed that he did not have any special knowledge of any of the clubs which featured in his bets. The Sanction Guidelines for charges under Rule 8 list a number of factors for the Commission to consider when determining the appropriate sanction, including:
- Overall perception of the impact of the bet(s) on the integrity of the game(s);
- Number and size of the bets;
- Facts and circumstances surrounding the pattern of betting;
- Any previous breach of betting rules; and
- Assistance with the investigation process and acceptance of the charge.
In its decision, the Commission made it clear that “the fact that Salford had been knocked out [of the FA Cup] was immaterial”. Although Scholes did not gain any particular advantage as Salford City had already been knocked out of the tournament, the decision makes clear that the facts at the time of the breach will be crucial to any Rule E decisions in the future.
When deciding on the level of fine, the Commission considered £8,000 to be the appropriate level given that at the time of placing the bets, Scholes was unaware of the restrictions under Rule E, and was placing the bets in order to enhance his enjoyment and interest in the matches rather than attempting to affect the results. Although Scholes was given credit for his co-operation in the investigations and his initial admission to the breach, the Commission highlighted that as both an ex-player and a director of a club at the time, he ought to have better acquainted himself with Rule E.
The Commission's decision in this instance serves to illustrate the increasing importance of professionals, ex-players, managers and directors understanding the relationship between their position in the game and their duties and responsibilities under Rule E of the FA Rules.