The life of a footballer is under a microscope and being in the public eye, their every move is captured and discussed in the news and on social media. They receive huge pay packages and often come under fire with many questioning whether they deserve such money.
In times of hardship, such as now, footballers find themselves heavily scrutinised despite the extraordinary amount of good work they do in the community. Just last week Health Secretary Matt Hancock called out for Premier League footballers to do more amidst the coronavirus pandemic. His ill-judged comments made no reference to any other big stars from other sports, leading to a defence from footballers stating that they are willing to do their part and that they shouldn’t be made into scapegoats.
But is it time that the government started scrutinising football’s unhealthy relationship with the gambling industry rather than a group of professionals who donate millions to charities and other good causes each year?
Football and the gambling industry have a long association with each other and it’s this relationship that has been the route of many gambling addictions for both players and fans. Only three Premier League sides this season are without a partnership with a betting brand and 17 out of the 24 Championship sides are sponsored by bookmakers. This means bookmakers’ names are plastered on the kits, around the stadium, almost everywhere you look.
For many football fans, a weekend flutter is part of the match-day ritual. Whether it’s the gambling adverts on tv or notifications from your mobile phone, it’s impossible to miss the bombardment of advertisements enticing you in with their eye-catching offers. Questions have to be asked whether fans, especially the young, are being normalised to the fact that betting is entwined within a football match day. It’s clear this generation of fans believe that you have to bet on football to enjoy it and gambling’s relationship with football is the root of the problem.
But what’s also concerning is that this season, the Football Association sold the broadcast rights for the FA Cup to seven gambling websites. This worryingly meant that to watch your side in the Cup you were forced to place a bet on one of their sites or deposit. While the government has called for reconsideration on the deal struck, the FA has said that it will review the media rights from the 2024-25 season onwards, in five seasons time.
What’s more, professional footballers are almost three times more likely than the public to have a gambling problem. Ex-professionals Paul Merson, Michael Chopra, and Kenny Sansom have all been open about their past gambling issues, but there will be many more who are or have suffered in silence.
Reviews are needed from the top and clubs need to look into other sources of income and begin distancing themselves from the betting companies. Gambling in football is the new tobacco, it’s time that we took a stance and realised that the relationship, and not players’ pay, is what is toxic.