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| 6 minutes read

Scottish football clubs explore loophole for alcohol sales at women's matches

Mitigation of alcohol-related harm at sporting events is a topical issue in Scotland. The sale of alcohol at Scottish football games has been banned since the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. The flashpoint for the ban was the riot at the aftermath of the Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Rangers. Recently, Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has spoken to Radio Clyde to confirm that the Scottish Government are far from considering lifting the ban at football stadiums, citing public health as the reason for retaining the current rules: 

"We still have too big a problem in terms of our relationship with alcohol, so I think for me, what we're trying to do in the direction of travel for the Government actually is trying to reduce alcohol consumption and make it less accessible as opposed to more accessible."

The Scottish Government has long grappled with the legal, political, and cultural intersection between alcohol and sport, provoking a wide range of public responses. Recent commentary on the existing legislation has revived the debate. 

The ‘loophole’ – does it work?

In what is being described as a ‘loophole’, it has been suggested that the drafting which purported to ban alcohol at the men’s games does not capture the women’s games.

Specifically, Schedule 2 of The Sports Grounds and Sporting Events (Designation) (Scotland) Order 2014 (“the 2014 Order”) sets out the classes of sporting events where alcohol cannot be consumed. These include, among others: ‘Association football matches in the Scottish Professional Football League’. Association football matches of the Scottish Women's Premier League (“SWPL”) are notably absent from the Schedule. 

The alleged ‘loophole’ represents not only an interesting point of public policy, but a challenging point of statutory interpretation. Complicating the issue further, Scottish football is not only subject to legislative rules, but also a network of grassroots, self-determined association rules and principles. The governing bodies of football are globally diverse and correlatively numerous, subject to a system of obligations which are interdependent and collaborative. 

The relationships between associations within Scottish football may be sufficient to close the loophole. Although the Schedule does not include the SWPL explicitly, the Schedule includes a category of ‘Association football matches […] which come within the jurisdiction of the Scottish Football Association Limited’. If it can be considered that the SWPL ‘comes within the jurisdiction of the Scottish Football Association Limited’, then the ban may bind the SWPL, effectively closing the suggested loophole. 

In support of this position, the Scottish FA Handbook (2023-24) (“SFAH”) refers to the ‘Scottish Women’s Premier League’ as a ‘Recognised League’. It shares this list of ‘Recognised Leagues’ with the Scottish Professional Football League, the Scottish Highland Football League, and the Scottish Lowland Football League - all of these leagues appear (explicitly) in Schedule 2 of the 2014 Order as classes of sporting events at which alcohol is banned. Given that it is a ‘Recognised League’, should it be taken that the SWPL is included in this list of leagues ‘within the jurisdiction of the Scottish Football Association Limited’, despite not being explicitly named in Schedule 2 of the 2014 Order? This remains to be seen.

There is a plausible counterargument relying on the ambiguity of the ‘jurisdiction’ of Scottish FA. In the Scottish Index of Legal Terms, provide by the National Records of Scotland, ‘jurisdiction’ is defined as ‘a power to hear and decide’, but there is no definition or clarification of the term within the statute itself. This leaves the term open for interpretation. 

One possible interpretation, which may bring the SWPL within the ‘jurisdiction’ of the Scottish FA, is by reference to the Scottish FA ‘Congress’. The Scottish FA is empowered by its handbook to hear from a representative of the Scottish Women’s Premier League at its Congress meetings. The purpose of the Congress is, among other things, to ‘provide a consultation forum for Scottish FA initiatives’ (SFAH 49(a)) and ‘provide a debating forum for the game of Association Football in Scotland’ (SFAH 49(b)). The Scottish FA hears and decides on matters in relation to SWPL at these meetings of Congress, and it could be argued that this might bring SWPL into Scottish FA’s ‘jurisdiction’.  

We can also refer to the Scottish Women’s Premier League rules and provisions. These rules refer to and apply Scottish FA rules in respect of their governance, dispute resolution, and rulemaking. Perhaps most conclusively, Membership Criteria of the Scottish Women’s Premier League requires membership of Scottish FA. This may bring the Scottish Women’s Premier League clearly within the ‘jurisdiction’ of Scottish FA. 

It is uncertain at present whether the lack of a specific designation of the SWPL in the Schedule is a deliberate omission. The women’s league is sufficiently prominent and successful that another draftsman might have been minded to explicitly refer to it in the Schedule, along with the ‘Scottish Professional Football League’. Omitting to do so, on that reading, supports the conclusion that the SWPL was deliberately excluded. On the counter-argument for this statutory interpretation, one could equally take the following view: if the SWPL had been deliberately omitted from the drafting by Parliament, Scottish FA would have been made aware, and alcohol would be permitted at women’s football matches. Which argument prevails is a matter yet to be fully explored.

What does this mean for women’s football? 

With an increasingly vocal and active support for women’s football in Scotland, the alcohol discussion has generated significant public interest. The SWPL has had record level attendances in the 2023/2024 season, up nearly 30% from the previous year. A total of 106,781 fans went to an SWPL, SWPL 2, or Sky Sports Cup game last season, the highest figure in a single campaign (2022/2023). Considering that the SWPL was formed only in 2002, with the second division appearing in 2016, there is a clear appetite for women’s football among the public. 

Speaking to Press and Journal this year, Scotland Captain Rachel Corsie endorsed the lifting of the ban, suggesting that:

“As long as trialling alcohol at women’s games in the SWPL can be done safely, then I think it is a worthwhile experiment.

I am a sports fan generally and I know being able to have a drink in moderation is part of the enjoyment and entertainment that people associate with going to a sporting event.”

She cited the importance of including different demographics in the sport, as well as the success of the American approach to sporting events, where alcohol was not banned. Commenting on this, Corsie explained: “when I played in America fans could buy and drink alcohol at games and I never encountered any issues related to that.

However, not all ambassadors of women’s football would endorse the change. Scottish Women's Football (the governing body for women’s association football at every level below the Scottish Women’s Premier League) have also been outspoken against alcohol sponsorship and have run campaigns on the effects of alcohol on elite players. Last year, one of Scotland's top female teams, Glasgow City, supported a campaign to end alcohol sponsorship in Scottish sport. 

Separately, the Scottish Government ran a consultation on alcohol advertising and sponsorship, outlining the damage caused by the promotion of alcohol at sporting events, particularly in the context of the view that live sport should be a family-friendly experience. The recommendation from Maree Todd (Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport) was to restrict alcohol marketing in Scotland.

Whichever the correct interpretation of the statute, Scotland is evidently divided on the question of whether alcohol should be permitted or promoted at football matches. 


As is often the case, ‘loopholes’ are not often as large or as clear-cut as they appear. It is difficult to argue that the intention of this statute was to permit the sale of alcohol at women’s football matches, without any consultation or discussion of same. Further, it appears likely – on the face of it – that SWPL would fall within the jurisdiction of the Scottish FA for the purposes of the relevant legislation, and the rules on alcohol transmit by association through the force of that legislation. Given the huge amount of public policy discussion on the matter, and the clear position of Scottish Government, it seems very unlikely that Parliament have scored an own goal. 


alcohol, football, scotland, sport, uk, tv, women in sport, advertising, film & tv, media