English football has an amazing ability to tie itself up in knots of its own making. There was a great example of this last week, when the FA charged Everton’s Colombian defender Yerry Mina with breaching rules about gambling after he appeared in an advert in Colombia for a betting company.
An FA statement said “Yerry Mina has been charged with misconduct in relation to The FA’s betting rules. It is alleged the defender breached FA Rule E8 (3) by participating in an advertisement for betting activity which he is prohibited from engaging in”
The problem with the FA applying this rule in Mina’s case is that he usually wears this to work.
The hypocrisy is glaring. The FA’s logic is Mina advertising gambling on his own = unacceptable, but Mina advertising gambling for Everton on a daily basis = fine.
There are obvious reasons why players should be a long way away from gambling. Not only is there an integrity issue, where there is the potential for a player to throw a game to satisfy a gambling debt; but also, it’s insider trading; where players can help their friends and family profit from information no bookmaker would know.
A few weeks ago, former Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge was given a fine and a short ban after being found guilty of breaching rules regarding gambling. Sturridge had allegedly tipped off family members about a potential transfer from Liverpool to Spanish team Sevilla, a transfer that ultimately never came off, for the purpose of them betting on his transfer.
So it’s fair to hold players and coaches to strict rules regarding gambling when it comes to bets being placed. But it seems completely stupid to hold the players and the teams they play for to different standards when it comes to promoting gambling.
The reason of course, is money.
In the UK, gambling is legal, highly profitable and really easy to do. Betting shops can be found in most British high streets. Within a mile of where I live, there’s 12 of them. And, of course, you can just pick up your phone and gamble as much as you like.
Football is a sport that presents heaps of opportunities to gamble. It’s not just the results and scores of games you can gamble on; there are hundreds of markets you can choose to bet on before and during every game.
You don’t just have to bet on games too. You can bet on transfers, on which players make international squads and coaches losing their jobs. And bet people do. Between them, British punters lost £14.4bn (about $18bn) between April 2017 and March 2018.
With the global appeal of football, it’s no surprise then that betting companies want to be associated with the game, and equally it’s no surprise to that teams are seeing betting companies make a lot of money through people betting on their games and deciding that they want to wet their beaks too.
Currently, 10 Premier League teams, half the league, have betting companies as their main shirt sponsor. Even the other ten teams that don’t have a betting company as a shirt sponsor, with the exception of Brighton, all have cashed in by having official betting partners.
A betting company sponsors all three divisions of the Football League; where 17 of the 24 teams in the Championship will play in a shirt sponsored by a betting company. It’s the same in Scotland where a bookmaker sponsors all four divisions of the Scottish Professional Football League. Celtic and Rangers, who are the best supported teams in Scotland and Northern Ireland by a great distance are both sponsored by betting companies, as are Edinburgh sides Hibernian and Hearts.
Many of the betting companies that sponsor Premier League teams have little to no presence in the UK. The global reach of the Premier League, where it’s estimated each match has an average audience of 12m people, means that the companies sponsoring the shirts are targeting customers in gambling-rich markets such as Asia, and have found a new market in African nations where online gambling is gaining in popularity due to more people getting the internet on their phone.
Sport Witness did a great piece about how fake news can be used to move the betting markets on player transfers, with an example of a large amount of money being bet on Wolves signing Diego Costa based on a rumour that was complete bullshit.
It’s estimated in the UK that there are nearly half a million gambling addicts, with a further 2 million people who are at risk of developing an addiction. Most worryingly, gambling problems amongst children are rising, rapidly. The Gambling Commission has found that 80% of 11-16 year olds in the UK have seen a gambling advert on TV and 11% had gambled online, despite it being illegal.
Of course, these people aren’t all going to be gambling on football, but for those that do and want to stop, there is little escape.
When watching or listening to games here in England, you get bombarded with adverts for betting sites offering up odds on the next goalscorer etc. A Daily Mail article showed that during the 16 Premier League games shown on UK TV between December 21st and January 3rd last season, there were 254 gambling adverts.
As of this season, betting companies have voluntarily agreed not to advertise ‘whistle-to-whistle’ and will instead only advertise before and after games.
But in reality, that won’t make a difference. For as much as is spent on TV adverts for gambling, it’s peanuts compared to what is spent advertising it online and through social media, and it’s there that it’s reaching children.
So what can be done?
At this stage it’s hard to see a cure for British football’s gambling problem that could come in any form other than the government clamping down on advertising. Italy banned betting companies from sponsoring sports teams earlier this year in order to try and curb the number of gambling addicts in Italy. Belgium has massively restricted gambling companies’ ability to advertise on TV and online.
There are a few clubs that are pushing back. Championship side Luton Town last season rejected a sponsorship offer from a betting company with Luton Chief Executive Gary Sweet saying “We hold a real duty, and those aren’t just football responsibilities, but a responsibility towards our supporters and our community. If we were to have [gambling] sponsorship on our shirts, we’d be promoting an ill habit that puts vulnerable people in a dark corner directly to our supporters and we don’t feel comfortable with that.”
Bookmaker BetVictor is now the sponsor of the Northern League, Isthmian League and Southern League, which between them have 228 clubs over 12 divisions and make up the seventh and eighth levels of English football.
Isthmian Premier League side Carshalton Athletic’s Chairman Paul Dipre wrote to the league protesting and declared they wouldn’t advertise BetVictor anywhere where it could be seen by minors. It worked, and the league have said no club has to advertise BetVictor on their shirts or around the ground.
Even the FA have stopped partnering with gambling companies. This came after Joey Barton, while receiving a 18-month ban for having placed thousands of bets pointed out the hypocrisy of him being banned by the FA for betting while they were sponsored by a betting company.
Even if advertising was banned, it may be too late. Thanks to some clever advertising campaigns, betting on football hasn’t just become normalised gambling to the point where many now find it necessary. SkyBet, who sponsor the Football League, used to use the tagline “it matters more when there’s money on it”, and that’s exactly the case for many people, who now find that the game itself isn’t enough to hold their interest, they need the additional interest of having some money on it.
Like most vices, gambling can be a bit of harmless fun if it’s only done from time to time, but it also has the potential to become addictive and it can ruin lives, due to the huge financial pits that people can fall into.
British clubs would point out that they need the money, and that if they stopped advertising gambling, the gambling wouldn’t stop. And they would be right.
But, there will be people who support their clubs that have either fallen into addiction or are vulnerable to doing so. So what the clubs and the football authorities need to ask themselves is are they comfortable taking that money knowing that it could be hurting the people who support their team?