When Law and Soccer Collide

In the United States, we generally think of sports team logos getting in trouble with modern law, bowing to the changing perceptions of a (hopefully) more inclusive population. However, that’s not always the case, particularly when you’ve got a legal foundation that goes back well beyond 1776.

Consider this Big Soccer article about Ayr United, currently playing in the third tier of Scottish soccer (confusingly called League One – just trust me). They’ve been on a roll on the field, but could run afoul of the law off of it, all due to their team crest, which is this:

AUFC Crest

Nice, huh? It’s been around since the 1950s, but is in danger of something that’ s been around much longer – a law about heraldry that dates back to 1592. England has a civil court to deal with heraldry, but Scotland’s body, the Lyon Court (presided over by Lord Lyon, King of Arms, naturally) is a little more hard core:

In Scotland however, infractions in heraldry are actually a criminal matter and nobody can legally use any sort of heraldic device without the approval of the Lord Lyon, who has the power to have any unapproved heraldic devices, and anything they are attached to, destroyed. This means that if Ayr make no changes to their emblem, the Lord Lyon could destroy all team kit and merchandise.

Another club in Ayr’s league, Airdire United, actually did the latter when their crest came under scrutiny.

Why Ayr and why now? The Lyon Court only investigates things brought to its attention, so somebody must have ratted (suspicion falls on fans from rivals Kilmarnock because, naturally, an Ayr fan ratted them out decades ago). Having said that, one Scottish attorney estimates that 25 of Scotland’s 42 professional soccer clubs might have similar issues.

I like the conclusion the article writer reaches:

It may seem as though Ayr United and the clubs before them are being unfairly treated, but I should point out that the Lyon Court is there to uphold the law. It may be a ridiculous anachronism of a law, but it’s still the law, and if the Lyon Court decide that a prosecution is in the public interest, then that’s what they’ll do.

That’s why it’s important for legislative bodies to go back through old laws and clear out those that are outdated and never enforced. Not only do they undermine confidence in the law, the provide troublemakers, whether of the elected or civilian variety, with tools to harass their rivals. The UK is currently in the middle of such a project, looking to strike old laws from things like wearing armor in Parliament to handling salmon “under suspicious circumstances.” Hard to say whether that would reach so far as the Lyon Court, however. I’m guessing not.

So loopholes it is for Ayr United.


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