The Beautiful game

The past week has seen the slow release of numerous allegations of improper conduct in football, which has resulted in sackings, calls for further investigation and the resignation of the England Manager, Sam Allardyce after one game in charge in what he described as “an error of judgement on my behalf“.

Although the various allegations, all of which remain unproven, have been described as “shocking” or with similar adjectives in various media sources, there appears to be far less surprise among those who follow football.

Despite creating a great deal of smoke, football has attracted remarkably little interest from the authorities, at least before the allegations surrounding FIFA in 2015 (see Blog post, Criminal proceedings commenced against Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, in Switzerland). However, rumours and allegations of corruption and questionable financial dealings within football are remarkably common. A former general secretary of the Association of Football Agents wrote:

“Corrupt behaviour has gone relatively unchecked for long enough to become accepted and be an endemic part of football’s culture.”

Considering the volume of allegations, it is worth considering what safeguards are in place to prevent football from being tainted with such allegations.


The role of agents in football has always been an issue of controversy. Agents are subject to both licensing and regulation. In the UK agents are licensed by the Football Association, the national governing body, rather than FIFA. Agents in the UK are required to, among other things, submit to a CRB check, pass an exam based on FA and FIFA regulations, possess indemnity insurance and sign the FIFA code of professional conduct. Having obtained a licence from the FA, an agent becomes FIFA regulated and can be involved in transfer dealings for players worldwide.

The FIFA code of conduct does appear to contain a number of robust duties. For example:

  • Persons bound by this Code may not abuse their position in any way, especially to take advantage of their position for private aims or gains.
  • Persons bound by this Code shall have a fiduciary duty to FIFA, the confederations, associations, leagues and clubs.
  • Persons bound by this Code may not perform their duties in cases with an existing or potential conflict of interest. Any such conflict shall be immediately disclosed and notified to the organisation for which the person bound by this Code performs his duties.
  • Persons bound by this Code must refrain from any activity or behaviour that might give rise to the appearance or suspicion of improper conduct as described in the foregoing sections, or any attempt thereof.
  • Persons bound by this Code must not offer, promise, give or accept any personal or undue pecuniary or other advantage in order to obtain or retain business or any other improper advantage to or from anyone within or outside FIFA.

Such standards are similar to those adopted for numerous other professions. There are however  questions as to the extent to which they are enforced.

The FA is transparent in its disciplinary process, publishing details of disciplinary charges, suspensions and responses on its website. It has investigated the conduct of agents in the past, as described here. But the perception remains that such conduct remains, eyes are turned away and too much of the vast sums of money being moved in football lacks transparency.

Criminal investigation:

Attempts by prosecutors to venture into the world of sport have been mixed. In 2011, four members of the Pakistan cricket team were sentenced to terms of imprisonment after deliberately underperforming in a Test match at Lords the previous year. They had been deliberately bowling no balls at specific points for the benefit of third parties. Three years previously, the trial of the former champion jockey Kieren Fallon and five other men for alleged horse race-fixing collapsed. Their lawyers accused the City of London police of a flawed investigation.

The most high profile football case concerning financial irregularities to reach the courts ended with the acquittal of Harry Redknapp, the then Tottenham Hotspur manager, on allegations of tax evasion, a trial which memorably featured the payment of $295,000 into a Monaco bank account named after his pet dog Rosie.

The current round of allegations, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, reports that eight current or former managers are accused of receiving bribes. There have been various calls for a police investigation into the allegations, including by the former England forward Gary Lineker.

If proven, irregular payments in the form of bribes could be subject to a number of potential charges. A change under the Bribery Act 2010 may highlight the difficulty of having to prove an “improper performance”.

The Bribery Act 2010 correctly identified the greater risk of bribery regarding public officials, so much so that the bribery of foreign public officials became a separate offence under section 6, with a lower standard  – influencing the official in his capacity as a foreign public official – rather than an improper performance that breaches a relevant expectation.

In order to secure a conviction under section 1, a prosecutor must prove that a person offers, promises or gives a financial advantage to bring about the improper performance of a relevant function, or believes the acceptance itself constitutes the improper performance. Using the FIFA code of conduct, which makes it clear “Persons must not offer, promise, give or accept any personal or undue pecuniary or other advantage in order to obtain or retain business or any other improper advantage to or from anyone”, prosecutors will no doubt rely on the second limb in order to bring any future prosecution. For more information see Practice note, Bribery Act 2010.

Time will reveal the extent to which the criminal law becomes involved into suspected misconduct within football. Regardless, there must be a call for tighter regulation and robust enforcement of the FIFA code by the FA. What makes football different from so many other industries is the concept of support, teams enjoying a brand loyalty unsurpassed in almost any other industry, and knowing that no true supporter would ever follow another. This loyalty should be rewarded by a thorough investigation and greater transparency in future.

Practical Law David Bacon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *