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Premier League accused of 'tokenism at best' with vote to ban gambling shirt sponsors – iNews

Chris Gilham first placed a bet on a football match when he was 30. Within five years he was in debt to the tune of £100,000.
“I was sitting there ready to take my life because I didn’t know how to get out,” he explains to i. “It ruined relationships, it ruined my mental health. I got to the place where I couldn’t get any more money. Fortunately I lost all of the money I placed on that final night and I found recovery. Thank God.”
Chris is now a trustee of the Gambling Education Network, a charity seeking to increase public awareness of the dangers posed by gambling – particularly in football.
“I didn’t know there was any danger to gambling,” he says. “That’s the problem with the advertising in football at the moment. It is everywhere but there is nothing saying ‘this could be dangerous to you’ and it is being seen by thousands and thousands of children every week.”
In Britain, the dominance of football gambling advertising is unmatched by any sector in any other sport.
Analysis by market research firm caytoo shows betting companies are the biggest shirt sponsors in the English game, with a 15.4 per cent market share almost 50 per cent larger than energy in second place. In cricket and rugby, gambling firms respectively make up just 4.8 and 3.3 per cent of shirt sponsors.
“Clubs need to drive as much revenue as they can commercially,” says Alex Burmaster, caytoo’s head of research. “Gambling companies are well known to be willing to pay a lot more for sponsorship than the average so it is natural the business consideration triumphs.”
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire told i that gambling firms typically pay between £7m and £10m to sponsor a Premier League shirt, a figure three to five times larger than the average amount offered by non-gambling companies.
These financial incentives were plain to see at the start of the Premier League season: every match on the opening Saturday featured a team with a gambling company’s logo emblazoned across the front of their shirts. None of the eight betting companies that sponsor a Premier League club responded to requests for comment.
Yet despite the government’s ongoing review of the 2005 Gambling Act and growing pressure from anti-gambling campaigners, this dominance has persisted. Boris Johnson’s resignation as prime minister in July delayed the review’s publication of a summary white paper, with Premier League clubs deciding instead to vote in September on their own front-of-shirt sponsorship ban.
The idea is that voluntary restrictions would minimise the likelihood of government restricting other types of betting advertisements – such as television, shirt sleeves, pitchside boards, and stadium and competition naming rights. By doing so, clubs would preserve the right to decide for themselves whether to take gambling sponsorships or not.
That, says Maguire, would change little: “Unless the front-of-shirt ban is part of a much broader addressing of all gambling-related harm, it is probably just tokenism at best. You get the worst of both worlds in the sense that the gambling industry is seen to have done something and the government is seen to have done something, but it is not actually addressing the problem.”
It is a view shared by anti-gambling campaign group The Big Step, who want all forms of betting advertising removed from all levels of football.
“It is not enough of a change,” says Tom Fleming, who works for the group’s parent charity Gambling With Lives. Tom is in recovery from an addiction to football gambling that he says was worsened by the ubiquity of adverts during televised matches.
“We would welcome it but if it does come about it will be voluntary and we think the government should step in to protect the whole population. It would be a very important staging post for us that we have won the argument because it is such an important admission of the harm that these adverts cause.”
There are also voices within football calling for change. “Footballers like me should never be walking advertisements for gambling – it’s why I’m calling for an end to this type of sponsorship in football,” Hal Robson-Kanu, the Wales international, wrote in Metro last week.
“We’re sadly failing a generation of young fans by relentlessly promoting online casinos. It’s gambling with the health and the lives of our fans. It must stop.”
In recent months, there has been some movement by clubs away from gambling sponsors. In June, i revealed that Newcastle United will end their deal with FUN88 at the end of the season, while Norwich City ruled out all future betting shirt sponsorships at the end of July.
Yet, given the size of the financial incentives on offer to clubs, comprehensive change may only be possible through government intervention.
“With football, so much is said about mental health,” says Chris. “But gambling is such an afterthought.”
Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League, said: “There’s a political hiatus, so we haven’t taken a vote on it, but we’ve talked to clubs about voluntarily stopping shirt-front sponsorship for gambling companies.
“We do support the government in its objective and that includes the Premier League’s messaging around gambling more generally. But we haven’t got to the end of that yet.
“The clubs will adapt, they always do. If the future means having no gambling sponsors on shirts, we’ll find a way of dealing with that.”
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