The Fußball is back (well in Germany for now anyway), and we are excited for the biggest stars of the game to dazzle us with their skills and their talent. 

As we do welcome the beautiful game back to our screens and social media feeds, we need to look at a side of it which rarely gets spoken about: football’s relationship with gambling. 

Getting Shirty

At the start of the 2019/20 season, only three Premier League clubs were without a partnership with a betting company. When you delve further into it half of the clubs have a betting brand as their prime shirt sponsor for the season.  Top clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham also boast about their partnerships with betting brands away from the pitch. In England’s second tier, 17 out of the 24 clubs feature a betting brand name as the shirt sponsor for the ‘19/’20 season.

Fought the Law and the Law won

The lines become a little blurred when we hear stories like Kieran Trippier, who broke the rules surrounding betting but in the English game. The question is often asked: with betting being such a prevalent part of football culture, is it still right to have such strict rules in place surrounding those who are employed by a football club?

There are more breaches even in the last 12 months, such as former Chelsea and Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge. The England international received a ban for four months from all football activity and a fine of £150,000. This has led to him being released by his club, Turkish Super Lig side Trabzonspor, and he is now hoping to get playing time at David Beckham’s MLS franchise Inter Miami. Everton and Colombia defender Yerry Mina was fined for appearing in an advert for a Colombian betting company in September 2019. 

In the EFL, Wycombe Wanderers forward Scott Kashket was banned for two months at the start of the year and fined nearly £3,500 for bets he placed between 2014 and 2016. Young Leeds United midfielder, Jordan Stevens, received a six-week ban from all football-related activity and fined £1,200 for the 59 bets he placed in the previous season, some of which involved Leeds. 

In the rules set out by the Football Association, anyone who is employed by a professional football club is not allowed to engage in any football betting activity regardless of their role at the club. This rule means that anyone from the manager to a matchday steward is not allowed to bet on any game happening in English football. Whilst this rule might seem outlandish, because, what effect is a steward in the top tier of a stand at Old Trafford can affect a game at Sutton United we will never know. 

It’s the high profile cases of breaching this rule that always gather our attention. Trippier is the most recent example but over the years a lot of football players have been found guilty of breaking this rule. Back in April 2017, Joey Barton, who was playing for Burnley at the time was suspended from football for 18 months, for placing 1,260 bets between 2006 and 2016. 

When he was suspended, Barton came out called on the governing body to acknowledge a “conflict of interest”. Barton said: “There is a huge clash between their rules and the culture that surrounds the modern game.”

How the FA are responding

Since this comment though the FA have pulled out of their sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes Coral. The FA Chairman, Greg Clarke, instigated this review. 

An FA Spokesperson said about the relationship between football and the gambling industry said to the BBC: “We made a clear decision on the FA’s relationship with gambling companies in June 2017 when we ended our partnership with Ladbrokes. The leagues and clubs govern their own relationships with gambling companies.”

This issue is not only prevalent in England. In Italy, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio banned gambling adverts, which meant that all clubs were barred from using gambling sponsors. This move, however, sparked criticism from the European Gaming and Betting Association, who argued that it would lead to people going to unregulated companies, and from the Serie A which could damage the league financially. 

This is slightly different in England, as the Premier League does not have a singular gambling partner and it’s the clubs’ prerogative to decide who their partners are. 

The EFL response

In 2017, the EFL announced a partnership with Sky Bet which will see them be the League’s headline sponsor till the end of the 2023-24 season.

A press release at the time from the EFL said: “underpinned by an enhanced Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), designed to help its customers stay in control and gamble safely”. It also included a new campaign focussed on responsible gambling behaviour, with the slogan, “When the fun stops, stop”.

This slogan is on all players’ sleeves. The EFL and Sky Bet also launched a new responsible gambling campaign designed to educate player and staff across all of the EFL clubs. This scheme is teaching them about gambling-related harm, across the length of the partnership. Sky Bet CEO Richard Flint said on the project: “By funding such a vital service for every club we want to play our part in reducing gambling-related harm among their players and wider staff. I firmly believe that responsible operators can add value to the sport through partnerships like this.”

A new dawn of sponsorships in football?

Sponsorship in football is nothing new and has been around for as long as we can remember. Betting and gambling companies have just replaced alcohol and cigarette companies that used to sponsor clubs. Alcohol brands are still prevalent in UEFA and FIFA competitions more so than at league and club level. Amstel and Heineken are part of the sponsors for the Champions League and Europa League (plus the new Europa Conference League). Heineken would also have been in line to sponsor this summer’s Euro 2020 Championships before they were delayed. 

Sponsorships in the beautiful game will always have to conform to what society deems acceptable, if alcohol brands are ok, then so should gambling and betting companies, right?

If gambling companies pulled out of these deals, where would clubs get that level of income from again and if there was a sudden reduction in income would we see the best players in the world play on our shores? 

The fact that the EFL are starting the campaigns around responsible gambling, shows they are recognising the issue and dealing with it. 

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