The FA’s decision to charge Wayne Rooney yesterday of using offensive, insulting and/or abusive language following his goal celebration against West Ham on Saturday has surprised and angered many who feel that his actions did not warrant such a charge.
But, what are Rooney’s options following the charge?
Rooney was charged under Law 12(6) which states:
“A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:
• Using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures”
As the incident was not seen by the referee, under Schedule A of the FA’s Disciplinary Procedures, the FA “may charge a Player with Misconduct under the Rules of The Association for incidents on or around the Field of Play, excluding the tunnel area, that are caught on camera but not seen and dealt with by the Match Officials at the time.” This was in contrast to the elbowing incident between Rooney and Wigan’s James McCarthy in February where the FA could not take any retrospective action due to referee Mark Clattenburg seeing the incident and awarding a free kick.
Under Section A 8(d) of the FA’s Disciplinary Procedures any player sent off or retrospectively charged with an offence under Law 12(6) “will be suspended automatically from First Team Competitive Matches commencing forthwith, and until such time as his Club’s First Team has completed its next two First Team Competitive Matches.” For Rooney, this would mean that he would be suspended for the league game against Fulham on Saturday 9th April 2011 and the FA Cup Semi-Final against Manchester City on 17th April 2011.
Rooney is required to respond to the charge by 6pm tonight where he must decide whether to accept or deny the charge and/or the standard punishment of a two match suspension.
Denying the Charge
If Rooney decides to deny the charge he must provide the FA “with copies of all evidence, documents and written submissions upon which the Club or the Player intends to rely” (Schedule A(b)(iii) FA’s Disciplinary Procedures) otherwise no evidence will be considered by the FA’s Regulatory Commission who is the body responsible for hearing participant’s hearings.
It is difficult to envisage what evidence Rooney may seek to rely upon apart from perhaps written submissions from him explaining his actions and intentions as well as once again expressing his remorse following the incident.
The Regulatory Commission will have to decide whether the charge is proved or not proved having regard to all the evidence put to them. If the charge is not proved, the charge will be dismissed and Rooney would escape any suspension. If the charge is proved, the Regulatory Commission will decide on the penalty served by Rooney.
Accepting the Charge
If Rooney accepts the charge then the suspension will commence immediately subject to any challenge over the Standard Punishment (see below) of a two match suspension.
Challenging the Standard Punishment
Usually, the FA’s charge letter to Rooney would include an offer of the Standard Punishment of a two match suspension. However, Rooney can decide to challenge the Standard Punishment offered by the FA, which can be increased or decreased in exceptional circumstances. This appears to be a more likely tactic that Rooney will adopt as, on the face of it, he looks to be guilty of the offence under Law 12(6).
If Rooney decides to challenge the suspension, he must claim that the Standard Punishment is clearly excessive which would allow him to highlight any mitigating factors that Rooney will surely want to rely upon. However, the Regulatory Commission can only decrease the Standard Punishment “where it is satisfied so that it is sure that the circumstances of the incident under review are truly exceptional, such that the standard punishment should not be applied, and the standard punishment would be clearly excessive, having regard to the following:
a) The applicable Law(s) of the Game and any relevant FIFA instructions and / or guidelines;
b) The nature of the incident including the Player’s state of mind, in particular any intent, recklessness or negligence;
c) Where applicable, the level of force used;
d) Any injury to an opponent caused by the incident;
e) Any other impact on the game in which the incident occurred;
f) The prevalence of the type of incident in question in football generally;
g) The wider interests of football in applying consistent punishments for dismissal offences." (Schedule A (d)(i) FA’s Disciplinary Procedures)
If the Regulatory Commission is satisfied that the circumstances are exceptional then the Standard Punishment will not be applicable and the Commission will decide on an alternative lesser sanction. However, if they are not satisfied, the standard punishment of a two match suspension will continue to apply.
Rooney would surely want to explain his state of mind at the time of the incident. This would presumably include attempting to explain to the Regulatory Commission his elation after scoring a hat-trick to put United in front after being two nil down and perhaps his release of frustration after being apparently abused by the West Ham fans for the majority of the game. Also, Rooney may want to highlight the Sky cameraman who decided to get as close as he could to Rooney after the goal which may have prompted Rooney’s outburst. Finally, Rooney may, and perhaps should, attempt to rely on point F of the factors listed above. As many have highlighted during the past few days, swearing, whether rightly or wrongly, is common place within football including on the terraces, the dressing room and on the pitch. This may therefore help persuade the Regulatory Commission to reduce Rooney’s suspension.
However, the FA will surely argue in response that Rooney’s actions impacted on the game in a negative way due to the likelihood of children hearing and people being disgusted with Rooney’s swearing. The FA will therefore claim that they must be seen to apply their rules and punishments especially considering the ongoing respect campaign that they continue to stress the importance of.
The Regulatory Commission can also, in some instances, increase the Standard Punishment. This can only materialise in the unlikely event of the FA not offering the Standard Punishment in the charge letter to Rooney and have themselves claimed that the Standard Punishment would be clearly insufficient.
As with the possibility of decreasing the Standard Punishment, the Regulatory Commission may only increase the suspension if the circumstances are truly exceptional having regard to the same circumstances mentioned above. If so, the Standard Punishment of a two match suspension may be increased otherwise it would continue to apply. (Schedule A (d)(ii) FA’s Disciplinary Procedures)
However, the Regulatory Commission may also increase any punishment if they believe that any denial of the charge or any claim that the Standard Punishment is clearly excessive is “an abuse of process or without any significant foundation” (Schedule A (e) FA’s Disciplinary Procedures). Rooney and United must therefore think very carefully before embarking on any denial of the charge and/or challenge of the suspension as this could backfire on them leading to an increased suspension.
Whatever action that Rooney and United decide to take following the charge will obviously determine Rooney’s fate. If a two match ban is upheld by the Regulatory Commission, Rooney would not have a right to appeal as under Schedule A (e) FA’s Disciplinary Procedures a player will only have a right to appeal where the punishment is “in excess of a three-match suspension.” However, in the long term, it is certainly going to be interesting to see whether the FA will decide to be consistent and enforce Law 12(6) in this manner once again. If so, how wide do they intend to apply the Law? For instance, does it have to be aimed at a particular camera or microphone like the Rooney incident? Or, can it just be unintentionally picked up by a camera or microphone? Time will tell.