22 April 2016 by

Falling foul of the FA’s rules when using social media

The recent charge of Leeds United director, Edoardo Cellino, by the Football Association (“the FA”) has highlighted the potential issues that can arise from using social media for people involved in football.

Mr Cellino was charged by the FA following alleged abusive and insulting comments made on Facebook to a Leeds United supporter.

In accordance with the FA’s regulations, Mr Cellino’s comments were adjudged to be in contravention of Rule E3 (1) and Rule E3 (2).

Rule E3 (1) relates to conduct and 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”.

The wording of the above clause is extremely wide and whilst it does of course cover conduct on the pitch, it also covers conduct off the pitch. It is the scope of conduct off the pitch that is of particular interest.

As can be seen from the charge of Mr Cellino, conduct away from the pitch isn’t just limited to conduct during normal working hours or within the confines of the workplace, but also includes conduct on social media. Social media is often used by people when they are not working and is, by its very nature, informal. It is unlikely be contemplated by the user of social media at the time the communication is sent, that the content of the communication could end up leading to a charge from the FA. It is arguable that Rule E3 (1) has the ability to control all public facing communications of a Participant’s (see definition below) life.

Rule E3 (2) relates to “aggravated breaches” and states:

A breach of Rule E3 (1) is an “Aggravated Breach” where it includes a reference, whether express or implied, to any one or more of the following :- ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability

One of Mr Cellino’s comments made reference to disability and therefore the FA also charged him in accordance with Rule E3 (2).

At this point, It is important to look at exactly who the FA can charge for breaching rules E3 (1) and E3 (2). The answer is that anyone who is classed as a “Participant” by the FA can be charged. “Participant” is defined by the FA as:

“Participant” means an Affiliated Association, Competition, Club, Club Official, Intermediary, Player, Official, Match Official, Management Committee Member, Member or Employee of an affiliated Club and all such persons who are from time to time participating in any activity sanctioned either directly or indirectly by The Association”.

As can be seen, the definition of “Participant” is extremely wide and covers not only individuals but also corporate entities including clubs and affiliated associations (County Associations or various specific football associations, such as The Army Football Association and The Independent Schools’ Football Association).

So exactly what powers does the FA have to deal with Participants who fall foul of Rule E3 (2).

Due to the wide range of Participants, the FA have a wide range of sanctions.  Where a Participant commits a breach of Rule E3 (2) for the first time, a regulatory commission (a independent commission set up by The FA) shall impose an immediate suspension of at least five matches and increase the suspension depending on any aggravating factors. If a Participant commits a breach of Rule E3 (2) for the second time then the regulatory commission shall impose an immediate suspension of more than 5 matches, taking into account an entry point of 10 matches suspension.

It is noted that the above will not apply to all “Participants” for example, people not actively involved in the playing of football matches. Therefore, in the event of a breach of Rule E3 (2) by any Participant for whom a match based suspension would be inappropriate due to the Participant’s particular role in football, the regulatory commission may impose any sanction it considers appropriate.

It should also be noted that the default starting position for any breach of rule E3 (2) via the use of any communication device, public communication network or broadcast media only, is any sanction the regulatory commission considers appropriate.

It is the fact that The FA have the power to order financial sanctions, that should be the biggest concern to any Participant charged in accordance with rule E3 (1) or E3 (2).

If you have any questions regarding the above article or wish to discuss any sporting regulatory issue, please contact us on 0207 288 4700 or email us at info@boltburdon.co.uk

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