To paraphrase Bill Shankly, football’s not just a matter of life and death; to some people it’s more important than that. However, an employment tribunal has held that supporting Rangers Football Club (Rangers) does not amount to a protected philosophical belief.
The Claimant, Mr McClung, had brought a number of claims against his employer, including discrimination on the grounds of a protected belief. He has supported Rangers for 42 years, as a member of the club and has never missed a match. He claimed that his fandom and supporting Rangers is a way of life and that his commitment is tantamount to attending church.
The tribunal has found that his support was not capable of being a protected philosophical belief. While it accepted that the belief was genuinely held, the tribunal concluded that the remaining criteria were not satisfied for the following reasons:
The Equality Act 2010 explanatory notes provide that adherence to a football team would not be a belief capable of protection. The definition of “support” contrasted with the definition of “belief”. Mr McClung’s support for Rangers was compared to support for a political party and case law is clear that such support does not constitute a protected philosophical belief.
Support for a football club is more appropriately considered as a lifestyle choice. It did not represent a belief as to a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and had no larger consequences for humanity as a whole.
Although Mr McClung argued that support for the Union and loyalty to the Queen (as monarch at the time of the hearing) were prerequisites of being a Rangers supporter, the Tribunal did not accept that there was anything to suggest fans had to behave, or did behave, in a similar way. The only common factor was that fans wanted their team to do well, which meant that the support lacked the required characteristics of cogency, cohesion and importance.
The final limb of the test is whether the belief if worthy of respect in a democratic society. Matters such as ethical veganism or the governance of a country, have been the subject of academic research and commentary and are accepted as worthy of respect but the Tribunal was not satisfied that this was the case for support of Rangers.
There is no suggestion that supporters of any other football club would have obtained a different outcome and the decision is an interesting illustration of the way in which attempts to widen the accepted categories of protected belief are addressed.