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#Piegate: What do the rules actually say?

Wayne Shaw is not the first person to have fallen foul of a publicity stunt in sport.

Underwear, mouth guards, painted racehorses and even streakers have all been used to maximise the commercial opportunity afforded by high profile sporting events. Yet, what was unusual about the antics of the Sutton United reserve goal-keeper, Wayne Shaw, on Monday night was both their apparent harmlessness and their potential seriousness.

On Monday evening, non-league side Sutton United played Arsenal at home in the fifth round of the FA Cup. With 105 league places separating the two clubs, the match was hotly anticipated. Yet, despite the build-up, the main talking point of the game happened off the pitch.

At approximately 82 minutes into the match, Wayne Shaw caught the attention of the cameras when he tucked into a pie whilst standing in the dug-out. The incident caused great laughter at the ground and on social media. However, it was not long before it became apparent that Mr Shaw's mid-game meal may not have been so innocuous.

Before the match, a sport's betting website had advertised 8-1 odds on Mr Shaw being pictured eating a pie during the match. After the match, the goalkeeper made no secret of the fact that he had been aware of the offer, telling reporters that 'a few of the lads' had told him about the odds and that he had pulled off the stunt to give fans 'a bit of banter'. However, events soon lost their amusement when the Football Association and the Gambling Commission announced that they would be launching an investigation into a possible breach of betting rules. Shortly after, Mr Shaw resigned from the club.

The rules

Despite the light-hearted treatment of Monday night's events in the media, the announcements by the FA and the Gambling Commission raise serious questions about the rules surrounding betting in football and how they apply to Monday night's game.

In 2014, the FA introduced new rules around betting which applied to all those formally participating in football, including players, managers, match officials and club staff. Under these rules all such people involved in football at the Regional Premier League Division 1 level or above are prohibited from betting on a match or other matter related to football. Further, the FA's rules also state that where such a person "provides to any other person any information relating to football which [that person] has obtained by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available at that time, [they] shall be in breach of this Rule where any of that information is used by that other person for, or in relation to, betting."

The FA's investigation

As a player in the National League Premier Division, Mr Shaw is subject to the FA's rules on betting. Whilst Mr Shaw has quite rightly acknowledged that he is not permitted to bet on football, the rules also mean that he is not allowed to provide information relating to football others which is then used by them for betting.

The FA's investigation is therefore likely to try and ascertain what, if any, information Mr Shaw told others about what would happen during Monday's game and whether that information was used by those people to place a bet. Investigations into match fixing can be complex exercises, often requiring the interrogation of a large amount of data including electronic and telephone records  However, given Mr Shaw's public comments that he was told of the odds before the game of him eating a pie and that he told others as he 'might give it a go later on' as he had 'eaten nothing all day', establishing what was said to who may not be particularly difficult in this case.

There does, however, remain one potentially challenging question for the FA in investigating Monday night's events: was the information provided by Mr Shaw before the game 'relating to football'? The FA rules are quite clear that betting in relation to the transfer of players, employment of managers and team selection are caught by the rules. However, it is far less certain that an event that has little to do with football, much less the outcome of a match, is prohibited. Resolving this question will require the FA to consider the very nature of the beautiful game it governs.

If only Mr Shaw had known that he would ask such profound questions of the world's most popular game before he sunk his teeth into the pastry.

James Morrison is a Solicitor in Ashfords' Sports Team which is headed by former professional jockey, Rory Mac Neice.

If you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please contact James Morrison.