What amounts to misconduct in football and who can be disciplined?
The FA’s rules can be found in The FA Handbook (section 10) (‘the Rules’). Rule E deals with misconduct.
A participant involved in an incident may be investigated and disciplined by the FA where (allegedly) in breach of any of the following:-
- The Laws of the Game (as set by the FA’s board and FIFA);
- The Rules and regulations of the FA;
- The statutes and regulations of UEFA and FIFA;
- The rules or regulations of affiliated associations and competition; and / or
- Any order, requirement, direction or instruction of the FA.
Who do the Rules apply to?
A ‘participant’ is defined as:-
- A County association or other Football Association
- A Club
- A club official (including a director)
- An intermediary
- A player
- An official (of an affiliated association or competition)
- A manager
- A match official
- A match official observer
- A match official coach or match official mentor
- A management committee member of an unincorporated club
- A member or employee of a club
- All persons participating in any activity sanctioned (directly or indirectly) by the FA
What is misconduct?
Rule E identifies significant areas of misconduct:-
- General behaviour
- Integrity matters in relation to matches and competitions
The Rules also deal with attempts to breach and agreements to breach; as well as with compliance with decisions, including suspensions, reporting misconduct and interim suspension orders.
A single incident can be a breach of multiple rules.
Rule E3 is somewhat of a ‘catch all’ provision.
Rule E3.1 states: “A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”
An “aggravated breach” is a breach of Rule E3.1 which includes a (direct or indirect) reference to: “ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability” (Rule E3.2).
Where the Participant is under 12 years old, disciplinary action shall not be taken in relation to any aggravated breach, but they shall be subject to an education programme (Rule E3.3), the aim of which is rehabilitation and to demonstrate to the Participant the detrimental effect that their actions can cause.
Sanctions for Clubs
Where two or more Participants from a Club commit an aggravated breach in any 12 month period, the Club will also be liable to a sanction imposed by a Regulatory Commission set up to hear cases (Rule E3.4).
This could in turn lead to internal disciplinary action by the Club in respect of the Participant’s conduct, and subject to the terms of the contract between the Club and the Participant, the Participant may be required to indemnify the Club for any losses arising from the Club’s sanction.
A Participant shall not carry out any act of victimisation or discrimination by reason of ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation disability, age, pregnancy, maternity, marital status or civil partnership unless otherwise permitted by law or the Rules and regulations of the FA (Rule E4).
In certain circumstances, discriminatory behaviour could amount to a criminal offence.
A Participant shall not seek to influence for an improper purpose the progress or result of a match or competition (Rule E5.1) for any reason; and shall not accept or agree to accept any bribe or reward of any nature which could in any way be related to the Participant:-
- failing to perform to the best of their ability (Rule E5.2.1); or
- seeking to influence for an improper purpose the progress or result of a match or competition (Rule E5.2.2)
Rule E6 provides the Participant with a duty to report to the FA any offer or incidents that could appear contrary to these rules.
A Participant shall not sell or give away a ticket for any football match to any person unless authorised by the organisers of the match (Rule E7).
A Participant shall not bet (directly or indirectly) or cause any person to bet on the result or progress of a football match (e.g. number of corners, cards, development of score) or competition; or any other matter concerning or related to football anywhere in the world, including: the transfer of players, employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters (Rule E8.1).
Provision of information subsequently used for betting purposes
A Participant shall be in breach of the rules if it provides any information to any person relating to football which the Participant has acquired due to their position within the game and which is not  Section 27 Equality Act 2010 publicly available at the time, where that other person uses the information for the purpose of betting (Rule E8.2).
Betting where the Participant is involved in the activities to which the bet is subject
A Participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct or cause any person to bet on:-
- the result or progress of a football match or competition in which the Participant:-
- is participating or has participated in that season; or
- has any influence whether directly or indirectly (Rule E8.4.1)
- any other matter concerning any Club participating any league Competition where the Participant is participating in or has participated in during that season (e.g. transfers of players, employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters) (Rule E8.4.2)
Promotion of betting
An individual Participant acting in a personal capacity shall not advertise or promote any betting activity (Rule E8.5) or produce audio / audio visual content on any platform to encourage (Rule E8.6) the activity that the Participant is prohibited in engaging in by Rules E8.1, E8.2 or E8.4.
A Club shall not instruct, cause or enable any Participant to breach Rule E8.6.
Attempts and agreements to breach
It shall be a breach of any relevant provision if it is demonstrated that there has been an agreement between a Participant and any other person (whether or not they are a Participant) to act in breach of the Rules (Rule E9).
Compliance with decisions, including suspension
A Participant shall comply with a decision made pursuant to the Rules and regulations of the FA (Rule E10).
A Participant shall not participate in any activity with another Participant that is suspended from carrying out such activity (Rule E11).
A Club shall ensure that a Player associated with it complies with a penalty or order imposed pursuant to the Rules (Rule E12).
A Club, Affiliated Association or Competition shall not appoint an individual or allow an individual to continue in a role if they have been suspended from holding such a position (Rule E13).
A Participant must immediately report to the FA any incident or matters which may constitute Misconduct, including which:-
- constitute a potential or actual breach of the FA’s Safeguarding Children Regulations and/or Adults at Risk Regulations (Rule E14.1); or
- relate to an approach made to a Participant by any person in relation to betting on football contrary to the Rules (Rule E14.2).
Reports of misconduct should not be for frivolous or vexatious reasons (Rule E15).
Reporting misconduct to an Affiliated Association constitutes reporting to the FA.
Interim suspension orders
Suspension before charge
A Participant may be subject to an interim suspension order before a charge is brought by a Regulatory Commission. The interim suspension order shall be for such period and on such terms and conditions as the Regulatory Commission considers fit, where:-
- the Participant is under investigation for an alleged breach of (or an attempt or agreement to breach) Rule E5 (improper influence or bribery relating to progress or result of match or competition) and / or Rule E8 (betting) or of rules or regulations of the leagues set out in the list below (Rule E16.1); and
- the FA, the PFA and the relevant leagues have agreed to an application being made to the Regulatory Commission for an interim suspension order (Rule E16.2).
These provisions apply to Participants that are associated with a Club in the Premier League, the EFL, the National League, the Isthmian League, the Northern Premier League, the Southern Football League, the Women's Super League, UEFA and FIFA.
An interim suspension order shall only be issued by a Regulatory Commission where it is satisfied that the serious nature and /or factual circumstances of the allegation(s) under investigation are such that the Participant’s continued participation in football presents a real risk that either:-
- the integrity of football would be affected and / or;
- the public’s confidence in the integrity of football would be affected
to such an extent that either or both of these factors outweigh(s) the Participants interest in continued participation in football (Rule E16.3).
Suspension after charge
The FA may issue an interim suspension order to a Participant of the above for such period and on such terms and conditions as it sees fit, where:-
- the Participant has been charged by the FA, the Premier League, the EFL, National League, UEFA or FIFA in relation to any alleged act of Misconduct, or with any criminal offence (Rule E16.4.1); and
- the FA, the PFA (where the player is a member) and the relevant league have each agreed to the interim suspension order (Rule E16.4.2).
A Participant shall be entitled to have the interim suspension order reviewed by a Regulatory Commission, which should be carried out in accordance with the interim suspension order regulations (Rule E16.5).
Notification and end of interim suspension order
An individual and / or the club with which the individual is concerned should receive notification of any interim suspension order as soon as is reasonably practicable (Rule E18).
Any interim suspension order shall not last beyond the date that the investigation or charges of Misconduct or criminal offence or other disciplinary proceedings is / are decided or otherwise brought to an end (Rule E17).
Attendance at and participation in matches
Clubs, competitions and Affiliated Associations are responsible for ensuring that:-
- individuals such as, its directors, players, officials, employees, spectators, supporters and followers (including those purporting to be followers) conduct themselves in an orderly fashion and refrain from improper, violent, threatening, abusive, indecent, insulting or provocative words or behaviour (or a combination) whilst attending at or taking part in a Match in which it is involved, whether on its own ground or elsewhere (Rule E20.1); and
- no spectators or unauthorised persons are permitted to encroach onto the pitch area, save for reasons of crowd safety, or to throw missiles, bottles or other potentially harmful or dangerous objects at or on to the pitch (Rule E20.2).
Where a Club, competition or affiliated association fails to discharge its responsibility, it shall be guilty of Misconduct, subject to any defence available to it (see below).
A Participant shall comply with the provisions of any anti-doping regulations and any social drugs regulations of the FA from time to time in force (Rule E25).
Suspension for serious criminal offences
The Council of the FA can suspend a Participant from all or any specific football activity for such period and on such terms and conditions as it considers fit where the Participant is convicted of a criminal offence and where it is considered there is a risk of physical harm to another Participant through the convicted Participant’s continuing participation in the game (Rule E26).
Are any defences available?
Any defences that are available to the Participant should be considered on a case-by-case basis, with reference to the specific factual matters relating to the circumstances leading to the allegation of the breach(es).
Examples of defences
A Participant could defeat a charge in relation to Rule E8.2 (providing information subsequently used for betting), where they can demonstrate that the Participant provided such information where they did not know (and could not reasonably have known) that the information provided would be used by the other person for the purpose of betting (Rule E8.3).
A Club could defeat a charge in relation to Rule E21 (responsibility for ensuring proper conduct of others) where it can demonstrate that all events and incidents were the result of circumstances over which the Club had no control, or for reasons of crowd safety, and that it had used all due diligence to ensure that the relevant responsibility was discharged. This defence does not apply where the Misconduct concerns spectators (or persons purporting to support and follow the Club) includes a reference to ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability.
Every month, the FA publishes a list of disciplinary charges, responses and suspensions.
The final month of the 2021-2022 season included the following breaches:-
Rule breached No. of breaches Example of Misconduct
E1.1 1 breach Violent conduct
E1.2 1 breach Betting on football (see below, breach of Rule E8)
E3 26 breaches Insulting words and behaviour (including aggravated breach)
E8 1 breach A player with 4,816 bets placed over 7 years
E13 1 breach Appointing someone whilst they are suspended
E20.1 10 breaches Failing to ensure players conduct themselves in orderly fashion
In a recent case decided by a Regulatory Commission, Marcus Bignot – former Birmingham City Women’s coach – has been handed a seven game touchline ban for making homophobic comments towards player, Rehanne Skinner during a Women’s Super League match in February 2022.
The charge was a breach of Misconduct under Rule E3(1) – using improper and / or abusive and / or insulting language. It was also treated as an aggravated breach given the reference to ‘sexual orientation’ (under Rule E3(2)). Bignot has received a seven game touchline ban and is required to attend a mandatory face-to-face education programme.
How we can help
At Saunders Law, we can advise you on any alleged breaches, and how best to manage the disciplinary process. Contact us on 020 7315 4801.