Philosophical belief case study
Who said football isn’t a religion – well actually the tribunal did.
Pele once said ‘football is like a religion to me. I worship the ball and treat it like God’. It is perhaps in a similar spirit of deification of the sport that Edward McClung launched a legal bid a few years ago.
Mr. McClung presented a claim at the Employment Tribunal, alleging that he was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against because of his philosophical belief. That philosophical belief, so claimed Mr. McClung, was his support for Glasgow Rangers Football Club (‘Rangers’). He said that as a consequence of his support for Rangers, he was both dismissed and discriminated against by his employer Doosan Babcock (‘the Respondent’).
Under the Equality Act (EqA), it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. These protected characteristics include disability, race, sex and philosophical belief. For the latter, for someone’s views to be categorised as a philosophical belief, the following criteria must be met:
- The belief must be genuinely held;
- It must be a belief and not an opinion;
- It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society.
Previous beliefs that have been held by tribunals to be a philosophical belief for the purpose of EqA have included veganism, gender critical views and pacifism.
A Preliminary Hearing (PH) took place in June 2022 to deal with the issue of whether Mr. McClung’s support for a football club could amount to a philosophical belief. In his witness statement, Mr. McClung said he went to his first Rangers match aged 8 and had been hooked ever since. He described how he was a member of the club and that he spent all of his disposable income following them. He said his support for the club was a ‘way of life’ and that attending matches was as important to him as attending a place of worship for religious people. He also said that the ‘vast majority’ of Rangers fans had the same broad socio-political ideology: they cared passionately about the UK (in terms of being strong Unionists), were Protestant Christians and had a strong allegiance to the monarchy.
The Respondent argued that Mr. McClung’s support for Rangers was just that, a support, not a belief, and therefore criteria (b) had not been met. They also argued that his support did not relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and therefore criteria (c) was not met. In fact, the Respondent argued that none of the five criteria were met so Mr. McClung’s love for his team was nowhere near being a philosophical belief.
In the tribunal judgment, which was published by the Employment Tribunal on 2 September 2022, Judge Wiseman ultimately agreed with the Respondent, holding that only criteria (a) had been met and that Mr. McClung’s support for Rangers met none of the other criteria. She also remarked that she was not persuaded that the vast majority of Rangers fans held the same Unionist, pro-monarchy and Christian ideology.
The decision isn’t really a surprise but one of Judge Wiseman’s comments might raise an eyebrow or two among football fans. She described supporting a football club as a ‘lifestyle choice’. For many, the football team you support is in your blood, dictated by the community in which you were raised, rendering the notion of ‘choice’ in the matter somewhat misplaced.