12th June 2023
Brentford FC striker, Ivan Toney, has received an eight month ban from football and all football-related activities, along with a £50,000 fine after accepting 232 breaches of the FA’s rules on betting. The recent case has garnered significant attention within the sports community. In this article, our Sports Law specialists Christian Slinger, India Swall and Shaney Stevens-Neale provide a summary of the sanction and discuss the wider impact of the highly criticised relationship between football and gambling.
Toney has been charged under Rule E8 of the FA rules. Rule E8 is an outright ban on players (either directly or indirectly) betting on any football-related activity, asking others to do so on their behalf or sharing privileged information for betting purposes. This is a worldwide ban that applies to “everyone involved in football, from the players and managers, to the match officials and club staff” and covers betting on games, transfer of players, employment of managers, team selection – to mention a few. Essentially, anyone involved in football is strictly prohibited from betting on any football-related activity worldwide. This includes a strict prohibition against an individual under the jurisdiction of the FA rules (a Participant) providing any third party with any football related information that is not within the public domain (and has been obtained by virtue of that individual’s position within the game) that would enable the third party to place a bet on the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in or in connection with, a football match or competition.
The burden of proof is on the FA to prove on the balance of probabilities that any charged Participant has acted in breach of FA Rule E8. However, in this case Toney pleaded guilty to each of the 232 breaches levelled against him.
In determining the sanction for Toney’s breach, the Disciplinary Commission considered several aggravating and mitigating factors of the case, including:
The Disciplinary Commission found that Toney: (i) knew that he was breaching the FA Rules (largely as a result of the education he received at a previous club); (ii) had concealed his identity when he was betting; and (iii) had given “clearly false” answers to the FA when asked whether he had taken part in any betting on football.
Originally, a more onerous sanction of 15 months was considered by the FA, but this was reduced by 25% to 11 months to reflect the guilty pleas entered by Toney. Following evidence given by a psychiatrist, the sanction was further reduced by three months after it was confirmed that Toney was “determined to address his gambling problem with therapy.” The Disciplinary Commission described Toney’s addiction as “significant mitigation” and, ultimately, Toney received an eight month ban, a £50,000 fine and a warning about future conduct.
It should be noted that at present this ban only operates in relation to English football; however, once the Disciplinary Commission’s written reasons are released, the FA may apply to FIFA to endorse a worldwide ban.
Historically, FA sanctions for betting have varied significantly dependent on the facts.
It is clear that timespan of the bets and the number of bets is key to the sanction. For example, Kieran Trippier was banned from football for 10-weeks and fined £70,000 after encouraging a friend to bet on him signing for Atletico Madrid. At Toney’s Sanction Hearing, the Disciplinary Commission viewed Toney’s actions as a far more serious breach. Trippier’s breach related to a single event covering a short period of time, whereas Toney’s numerous breaches took place over a 4-year period. More comparable to Toney is the 13-month suspension Joey Barton received for the 1,260 bets he placed over a 10-year period.
One mitigating factor that has been frequently argued in defence against FA gambling charges, for example in the case involving Anthony Acheampong, is ignorance of the FA rules prohibiting betting on football by Participants. In the case of Acheampong, the Disciplinary Commission concluded that Acheampong had received a lack of direct training from the FA on this matter and that this was a mitigating factor for sanctioning purposes. A Disciplinary Commission may be willing to take such lack of awareness/training into consideration when dealing with a Participant in a lower league, but it seems a Disciplinary Commission may give little (if any) weight to any such arguments from a Participant in the higher leagues given the amount of training Participants in higher leagues receive, albeit each case will obviously depend on their own facts.
It is possible for sanctions to be suspended if there is a clear and compelling reason to do so. Scott Kashket received a suspended sanction because of the unusual circumstances of the case, being that Kashket was young, unaware of the prohibition on football betting and had not bet on any games in which he had participated. For Toney, this was not the case – he admitted knowledge of the FA Rules and was guilty of placing bets in what the FA views as the most egregious category (these being placing bets on his own team to lose – albeit, he was not playing in any of those games) and there was no clear and compelling reason to suspend any part of his suspension.
Toney’s sanction should not be considered in isolation, this forms part of the wider self-reflection taking part within football as it navigates its own embedded and complicated relationship with the gambling industry. Other than the 2018/19 season, the number of betting related cases heard by a Disciplinary Commission has increased year on year. In an attempt to combat the sport’s association with gambling, in April, the Premier League became the first UK sports league to withdraw gambling sponsorship from the front of their matchday shirts from the end of the 2025/26 season, pre-empting the results of the Government’s review of gambling legislation.
The Gambling Commission published statistics from a report produced by Ipsos that (excluding online exposure) the most reported form of exposure to gambling experienced by young adults was from watching television (57%) or being at a sports event (37%). Following the revelation of Toney’s gambling addiction, concerns about the relationship between football and betting have been raised again by anti-gambling campaigns who highlight that Toney has been the recipient of personal awards sponsored by gambling companies. Clubs should carefully consider the risks associated with any potential sponsorship and/or advertising by gambling companies and ensure that there are adequate contractual provisions in place to protect against changes to legislation and/or football rules and regulations in this area.
The Toney case sheds light on the importance the FA places on upholding the integrity of football and how the FA will seek to ensure strict adherence to its regulations on gambling. This decision should serve as a reminder to clubs to ensure that all players and employees (i.e. any Participants) are trained properly on FA’s rules on gambling so as to avoid key assets of the club being banned for could be a significant periods of time.
 FA Rule E8.1
 See paragraph 48 of FA v Ivan Toney