One of the most irritating arguments that any football fan can hear is that players are role models and that whenever one does something slightly out of line, they should be ashamed of themselves as young children look up to them. For a long time, athletes and celebrities have borne the brunt of society’s ills. Whatever impact a footballer’s actions have on anyone that admires them pale into insignificance compared to another issue that blights society and sport.
In the last financial year £14.4bn was lost by the British public to betting companies. Nine Premier League teams are sponsored by gambling companies and have their logos emblazoned across their shirts. Let’s not ask what individuals can do to be better ‘role models’, let’s ask what clubs and the entire football industry can do to look after the people who ultimately make it the force it is.
The cost of attending a fixture has never been higher. It isn’t just about the price of a match ticket. It is everything else that going to a sporting event entails: the overpriced, tasteless food, the drinks with no lid, transport, the match-day programme. Despite all this, fans are still encouraged to part with more money once they get into the stadium.
They are teased with betting adverts. They’re on the shirts, they’re next to the food kiosk, they’re on the hoardings around the pitch, they’re on the hoardings that face the stands: give us more money in the hope that you might make a bit of your expenses from today back. They’re even mentioned in tweets from clubs’ official Twitter channels that announce the starting line-up. It cannot be avoided.
Those watching at home are bombarded with advertisements urging them to gamble. Twenty one per cent of people surveyed by the Gambling Commission said that they had bet ‘in play’ during the past month. More alarming is that 46% of 11-16 year-olds said they had seen gambling sponsorships at sporting venues. Five per cent of those surveyed admitted they had made bets online. Sporting events are breeding the next generation of gamblers eager to risk their cash.
Clubs must act with a greater social conscience. To reduce a stadium to a giant billboard for gambling companies is as irresponsible as it gets. Clubs should speak out on the terrible actions by companies whose names and practices they endorse. Putting this information in front of thousands of children and those who can ill afford to lose money must stop.
Selecting what clubs should and shouldn’t endorse is a minefield. All companies have their flaws but none stand to be as disruptive to an individual as gambling. Many of the biggest bookmakers have repeatedly shown that their behaviour is reprehensible yet Premier League clubs continue to accept their cash despite the damage it will have done to someone who now can’t afford to attend today’s match. The day the football industry comes together and agrees not to endorse gambling throughout its reach cannot come soon enough.