Former Wales Rugby Coach Banned over Betting

Former Wales and Lions attack coach, Rob Howley, has been banned from rugby for 18 months after breaking betting rules. It was discovered that over the course of 45 months, the Welsh coach placed 363 bets. Half of the ban is suspended and the coach may return on June 16th, 2020.

A rugby player prepares to kick the ball.

Rob Howley has suspended from rugby for 18 months, with 9 months suspended. ©Hanson Lu/Unsplash

Sent Home From Japan

The former Wales backs coach Rob Howley was sent home from Japan on September 17th, 2019 when his breach of sports betting rules was initially discovered. He had been in Japan to attend Wales’ Rugby World Cup training camp. It was just six days before Wales was due to play against Georgia. For that match, he was replaced by Stephen Jones, and Wales went on to successfully win the match. Under Warren Gatland, Wales made it to the semi-finals.

Before becoming a coach, Howley enjoyed a successful rugby career on the pitch. Howley first joined the Wales team in 1996. The following year he was selected for the 1997 British Lions tour to South Africa but was unable to play due to injury. Howley also played in the first two tests of the 2001 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, before getting injured again. Howley retired from playing rugby in 2004 after receiving an injury to his wrist. He has been awarded 59 caps, 22 of which he received as captain.

Howley went on to coach Cardiff RFC, before taking a position as attack coach for the Wales national team in 2008. As Warren Gatland’s assistant coach, he has led Wales to win multiple trophies and Six Nations titles. With Ian McGeechan, he coached the British and Irish Lions in their tour to South Africa in 2009. He also coached the same team under Warren Gatland in the 2013 tour to Australia, when the team won the test series for the first time since 1997.

A Thorough Investigation

The allegations first came to light when Betway got in touch with Jeremy Rogers, the Union’s policy and integrity manager. Howley had used a Betway account to place bets on rugby matches involving the Wales team. Anti-corruption officer Julie Paterson then traveled to Japan with Union chief executive Martyn Phillips, to discuss the matter with Howley in person. When questioned, Howley admitted to betting in breach of rugby rules.

While Howley was suspended from coaching, the Welsh Rugby Union conducted an investigation into the alleged breach. In November, describing the ordeal that Howley had gone through since being suspended, former head coach Warren Gatland, said that he had “gone through hell”.

“I spoke to him a couple of days ago and during the World Cup. It’s been the hardest six or seven weeks of his life, he’s been emotionally through absolute hell and there’s an investigation that’s been going on. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, there’ll be a result from that, but I know emotionally it’s been incredibly tough on himself and his family and he’s been so apologetic”Warren Gatland, Former Wales Rugby Coach

Gatland stood down from his position as Wales’ head coach after the tournament in Japan. The tournament marked the end of a 12-year career for Gatland. Howley had coached with Gatland since 2008 and was due to leave his coaching role after the 2019 World Cup. Unfortunately, due to the betting allegations, Howley was forced to leave that role early. He had been in the running to be Italy’s next head coach, but his suspension put an end to those hopes.

Gareth Davies, Welsh Rugby Union chairman acknowledged that it had been a difficult time for Howley, while stressing the importance of a thorough investigation. “We said at the outset this was not about doing things quickly, it was about doing it properly. It has been a tough time for Rob and a tough time for the players and coaches at the start of the World Cup. We are working with him and going through the investigation to do it properly for everybody’s sake. They are mindful we are looking after him as well while the investigation is ongoing.”

Banned for 18 Months

On October 5th, 2019, Howley was sent a letter, stating the charge made against him. He was charged with “Betting on the outcome and/or any aspect of an event by a Connected Person and receiving part or all of the proceeds of such Betting”.

According to World Rugby rules, Howley’s actions breached 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.”

Howley’s 18-month ban is backdated to his suspension on September 16th, 2019. The investigation discovered that between November 14th, 2015 and September 7th, 2019, Howley had placed “363 bets on rugby union, featuring 1,163 matches in total”. It was also found that he had used his WRU email and phone accounts to place bets and had had accounts with three bookmakers. Howley accepted all charges, although he has 14 days to appeal the decision. He will be allowed to return to rugby in June next year.

Howley admitted that 24 of the bets he had placed were ‘connected’, meaning that they involved the Wales team. Two of these bets were on players, although neither player was aware of the bets. They were low stake bets, worth only a few pounds. One was a bet on the Grand Slam win against Ireland in March, and another was on who would score the first try of a match.

Character witnesses came from Wales center Jonathan Davies, former Wales coach Warren Gatland and Irish Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan. The investigatory panel found that Howley did not benefit financially from the bets, and lost £4,000. According to the report , Howley’s betting was the result of a ‘family tragedy’.

“It is clear that Mr. Howley’s betting on rugby was part of a hobby of betting on sporting events. We use the word ‘hobby’ with some caution because it seems that a trigger for Mr Howley’s betting activity was a family tragedy involving the death of his sister. While we are prepared to accept the trigger for Mr. Howley’s betting on sporting events has its seeds in personal family tragedy, it is much more difficult to understand why he chose to bet on rugby which he knew was prohibited rather than other sport exclusively, which of course was perfectly permissible.”

Howley Wont Bet Again

The WRU investigation culminated in a hearing in Cardiff, chaired by Sir Wyn Williams. Consequently, WRU released an official statement explaining the details of the suspension.

Some have viewed Howley’s 18-month suspensions as lenient. However, the investigation found that in Howley’s favor, he accepted responsibility for his actions early on and there was no indication of dishonesty. Howley did not profit from his betting, and it resulted from emotionally difficult circumstances. Since the investigation began in September, Howley has not placed any bets. He has sought help from a consultant psychologist to prevent himself from betting again. While it is not worded as such in the report, the insinuation is that gambling had become a problem for Howley.

“Mr. Howley answered every question which was put to him. He did not seek to avoid responsibility for what he had done. He was clearly remorseful and very anxious about the effect his actions were having on his family.”

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