I was hoping the Rugby World Cup 2019 would bring a few opportunities for comment:  a red card here, high tackle there, maybe a good old Wales v England head-to-head and all that comes with such a fixture. I was not expecting the excitement (for all the wrong reasons) to kick off before the anthems for the first game had even begun.

Rob Howley, Wales' backs coach, has been summonsed home to help the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) due to allegations that he has violated Regulation 6.

Regulation 6 is the part of World Rugby rules that cover gambling and anti-corruption. In this instance it known that the WRU are looking specifically at an allegation of “betting on rugby union”, which comes under regulation 6.3.1.  This states:

World Rugby's regulation 6.3.1“No connected person shall, directly or indirectly, bet and/or attempt to bet on the outcome or any aspect of any connected event and/or receive and/or attempt to receive part or all of the proceeds of any such bet and/or any other benefit in relation to a bet”

Rob Howley would obviously be considered a connected person as a connected person is defined as:

“…any coach, trainer, selector…engaged in relation to the Game by a Union or its National Representative Team

World Rugby’s regulations are directly incorporated into the WRU’s own Code of Conduct. At this time, it appears that the WRU are investigating the breach on their own, but there would be scope for World Rugby to intervene, or for the WRU to request that World Rugby take over the investigation.

The case involving Rob Howley, which had not concluded at the time of writing, is far from the first instance where a regulatory investigation has been launched as a result of the alleged breach of betting rules concerning rugby.  Previous high profile cases include a 2004 scandal where Sean Long and Martin Gleeson, bet against their own team (rugby league team St Helens) when they knew a weakened side was being played, which was not permitted, especially as Martin Gleeson himself took part in the match (although it should be noted that he was cleared of any charge of attempting to influence the result through his actions on the pitch).  The players were handed suspensions of four and three months respectively – although it didn’t particularly dent either’s career. Another example is where, in 2015, former Leicester Tigers Coach Phil Blake was banned for six months and fined for 2 breaches of anti-corruption rules. In his case he was betting on the Tigers to win.

In that case Christopher Quinlan QC, chairman of Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) disciplinary panel stating that this case was the first of its kind to be tried under the RFU rules. He went on to say:

In arriving at the appropriate sanction we have been careful to remind ourselves that we must not make an example of Phil Blake. We have imposed a sanction which we consider fair and proportionate to what he did, while having due regard to the proper consideration of deterrence. We have sought to strike a proper balance between the competing factors and arrive at a sanction we consider to be just. We must have regard to the wider interests of the game…It is important that those involved in the game and the wider public understand that any breach of the anti-corruption and betting regulations will and must be treated seriously.”

There are equivalent rules across sports in relation to betting violations for example footballer Joey Barton was banned by the FA for placing 1260 bets on football matches over 10 years. He was banned initially for 18 months and fined £30,000 although this was later reduced to a 5-month suspension on appeal.

The Rob Howley case is another timely reminder that sports' governing bodies are pro-active in using their powers to prevent betting activity by persons which are connected to their sport. 

Alecsandra is an experienced advocate in regulatory and professional discipline cases, crime and general litigation. She also has experience of advising in international policy matters.