There has probably never been a global sporting event surrounded by as much ethical controversy as the current FIFA World Cup in Qatar. In many people’s eyes, the whole event is the most blatant illustration of football’s capitulation to greed and corruption.
The important discussions on the conditions for immigrant construction workers, the human rights of LGBT people, the tournament’s carbon footprint and why Qatar were even awarded the tournament has meant less focus on an issue that has continued to sicken me: football’s collusion with the gambling industry.
We may be in the grip of a cost of living crisis, but its boom-time for gambling companies. Online gambling via smart phones has led to exponential growth and colossal profits.
Long-gone are the days when placing a bet meant venturing into a smoke-filled shop, full of nervous, edgy men and filling out a form.
In recent years, the rise in mobile gambling has helped bookmakers gain an extra 1.6 million customers aged under 35. The proportion of gamblers using smart phones and tablets is 55%. This is twice as many as four years ago, and is the method younger people are most likely to use.
Gripped by addiction
I know young people who love football but who have been gripped by gambling addiction. It’s a terrible thing to see people losing huge amounts of hard-earned money in seconds.
And it leads to far more than just a loss of money. Consider these two facts: (see Gambling with Lives for more)
- There are over 400 gambling related suicides every year in the UK
- An estimated 55,000 children in the UK are addicted to gambling
The gambling industry spends £1.5 billion every year on advertising, It does so because advertising works. And football has allowed itself to become saturated by it:
- Almost half of the Premier League clubs have betting firms as their shirt sponsors
- Gambling adverts surround TV coverage with ‘in-play’ odds before and during the match
- Betting advertising is pitch-side, in match day programmes, club’s social media and even on video games and sticker books. Children are relentlessly exposed to gambling promotion
- A gambling brand is visible 89% of time during BBC’s Match of the Day
- Famous former players and media pundits like Alan Shearer, Robbie Savage, Jermaine Jenas and Jose Mourinho all promote football gambling sites
- Worst of all, the radio station Talk Sport go further than just carrying betting adverts and commentators integrate updates on the latest odds within their match commentary
It is not like football does not know about the dangers of gambling addiction. Paul Merson, the former England and Arsenal player, is just one player who has struggled with a gambling addiction. He recently said this:
“I’ve been addicted to alcohol and cocaine, but by far the most destructive and the only one I’m still struggling with today is gambling. If I want to get drunk or high, I have to put something up my nose or down me. Gambling’s already in you, just waiting constantly, talking to you.”
The strength of betting addictions make a mockery of the slogan used by the gambling industry to accompany their adverts ‘When the fun stops, stop’.
It was not long ago that cigarette sponsorship was widespread in sport. English cricket used to have the John Player Special League, the Silk Cut Challenge and the Benson & Hedges Cup before tobacco companies were banned from sponsoring sport in 1992.
As with smoking, there is more than enough evidence of the serious dangers of gambling.
I love football and continue to see the amazing difference it can make in children’s lives. But young people are being let down by the guardians of the game continually selling the game out to greed and corruption.
There are more than enough ways for clubs to generate money without further damaging vulnerable young people: football must stop gambling with people’s lives.