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The glamorous worlds of non-league football and employment law collided again last week as Sutton United followed up their impressive FA Cup run and admirable performance against England’s perennial 4th best side by embroiling themselves in 2017’s most bizarre scandal to date. Sutton’s 23-stone reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw was allegedly dismissed for eating a pie in the dugout, potentially falling foul of the sport’s betting regulations in the process.

Wayne Shaw The controversy surrounded a bet which had been advertised by an online gambling website offering odds of 8/1 that Shaw would eat a pie during the match. Shaw duly obliged, apparently in the knowledge both that the website was offering the very generous odds and that a few of his friends had backed him. But what did he actually do wrong?

He did something that influenced the outcome of a bet in the knowledge that the bet had been made but, by that same reasoning, so does the person who scores the first goal in any given match: every time Harry Kane takes the field, he must know that any number of people will have bet on him to score first. Why is eating a pie in the knowledge someone has bet on it any different from scoring a goal knowing someone has bet on it?

It has been argued that the distinction between the two is that when Harry Kane is trying to score the first goal, there are 11 professional footballers on the opposition team trying to stop him and 10 on his trying to beat him to it. In eating a pie, Shaw did so unopposed.  

This distinction is entirely irrelevant. Even if Shaw had wanted to eat the pie, it was far from a forgone conclusion that he would: the first choice goalkeeper may have been substituted off for Shaw; the pie shop might have sold out of pies; the manager might not have used all three changes; Shaw may have injured himself in the warm up and been dropped from the squad entirely. All these outcomes would have resulted in Shaw not being able to eat the pie and therefore winning the bet.

That these outcomes were unlikely only goes to prove that the odds of 8/1 were extremely generous; they do not change the rules of the bet.

Betting regulations in sport are there to protect the sporting integrity of competition. They are not there to prevent bookmakers from losing money on silly bets. Where a player deliberately scores an own goal, gets himself sent-off or even puts the ball out for a throw-in on purpose, the sporting integrity of the event is compromised and the sport has the right to intervene and punish those players. Where an unused sub eats a pie, it does not (save to the extent that eating a pie compromises the sporting integrity of any event, regardless of prior bets). Why, then, should the rules step in to protect the foolish bookmaker?

Blog by Michael Briggs

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