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FC United
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ESPN FC  By ESPN

Joey Barton's 18-month ban explained: Q&A with legal expert on FA ruling

Is Barton's ban justified? How would other sports have handled this case?

Burnley midfielder Joey Barton has been suspended from all football activity for 18 months after admitting a misconduct charge relating to betting. 

Barton has admitted the charge but is appealing the length of the ban, which the Football Association (FA) explained in its written reasons.

But how did the FA arrive at this length of ban, and how does football look at betting?

ESPN FC asked Ross Brown, senior associate at sports law practice Onside Sport, to explain the nuances of Wednesday's ruling.

ESPN FC: Is there a precedent for such a lengthy ban for this kind offence in football? What about in other sports?

Ross Brown: There is limited recent precedent for a ban of this length. However, a non-league manager was banned for three years in 2016 for around 50 bets on his own team to lose. The circumstances of Joey Barton's case are different but his high profile, the large number of bets (including some against his own team) and the sustained period of betting would have been relevant factors in the decision.

The FA rules allow for a lifetime ban so taking that with the non-league manger's ban, Barton could have received worse.

Other sports have similar rules. Tennis, for example, has a similar prohibition on a player betting on professional tennis matches. The maximum sanction available in tennis for the offences Barton has been found guilty of is three years; given the number of offences, Barton would likely have received a longer ban than 18 months had he been a tennis player.

ESPN FC: Is there any betting activity related to football in which players are allowed to engage?

RB: No. There is a complete prohibition on a footballer engaging in any betting activity on football on a worldwide basis. Footballers are not even allowed, in a personal capacity, to promote any betting activity that they are prohibited from engaging in as a player. Again, this is similar to other sports.

These stringent rules demonstrate the seriousness with which gambling is taken within football. Also, it demonstrates the need for anyone involved with football to be perceived to be unconnected to gambling in order to avoid any impact on football's integrity and, in particular, the confidence of the public in that integrity.

ESPN FC: How has the FA's rules on betting evolved up until this point?

RB: The current rules were adopted prior to the 2014-15 season. Before that, the prohibitions on betting by a footballer were limited to matches, and leagues, they played. If Barton was playing in the Premier League he could have placed a bet on a match, for example, in League 2 or La Liga provided he could not influence it in any other way.

However, the FA felt that a message needed to be sent that it was not appropriate for anyone involved in football to bet on football at all, given the risk that those involved in professional football may well have sensitive or confidential information that is not restricted to their club or league.

ESPN FC: What has prompted the increase in sanctions against players betting in recent years? Has it become easier for authorities to track?

RB: The perception in sport, the media and the public has developed towards an environment where the highest standards of integrity are required. Sports want to protect themselves against anything that might diminish their reputation for integrity and ensure that the sanctions players receive once caught for an offence serve as a robust deterrent to others.

Consequently, sports are more vigilant and invest more in investigating integrity issues such as gambling. They have more memorandums of understanding with betting companies meaning that they agree to cooperate and share information. This in turn leads to activities that may have gone unnoticed before being unearthed now.

It is not necessarily that more players are engaging in gambling, but that more are being exposed through better policing.

ESPN FC: Given that Barton has admitted the charge and gone on record with the details of more than 1,200 bets on football, including matches he has played in, what grounds does he have to appeal the ban?

RB: The only appeal open to Barton is to the length of the ban and not the ban itself. To reduce the ban, Barton will have to demonstrate that there are factors in his case to justify a reduction.

He will be able to point to the lack of precedent and to the personal circumstances referred to in his statement yesterday: he has admitted his guilt and his problem with gambling. Also, the FA panel did not rule he was attempting to fix matches; Barton will say the FA encourages gambling through its sponsorship agreements with betting companies.

However, the risk is that the appeal board will consider the negative findings made against Barton sufficiently serious to justify increasing his ban instead. This is unlikely but a lifetime ban is the maximum sanction available, giving the appeal board a broad discretion when they consider his case.

ESPN FC: Why is this suspension so much longer than those handed out for other serious offences in football, such as bans for racial abuse or violent conduct?

RB: Gambling is an offence that goes to an issue of integrity and is related to the even more serious issue of corruption (though not in the Barton case). The modern view of sport is that those issues should be dealt with firmly to protect integrity and deter others from a similar offence. Anything that suggests a football match is contrived, so not real, can have a very damaging impact.

Violent conduct and racial abuse are both obviously wrong and requiring of punishment, but they do not have the same potentially wide-ranging effect on the sport.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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