BETTING, BOOKIES CRIPPLING FOOTBALL WORLD
There is a litany of footballers — from the higher echelons to the minions — who have succumbed to this aberration
IS the world’s richest football league, the English Premier League (EPL), aiding and abetting addiction to gambling? This is seemingly so, with the unwitting blessing of Fifa (the world governing body) and the FA (English Football Association). They seem to be promoting an unhealthy relationship between the beautiful game and the multi-billion dollar online betting industry.
The bad news is that, apart from the United Kingdom and Ireland, Asia is a major target for online sports betting purveyors, of which football and cricket stand out, thanks to the nearobsessive love of gambling in East Asia; the sheer pulling power of the EPL; the spectacular rise of the Twenty20 Cricket Indian Premier League (IPL), arguably the most lucrative shortterm tournament in any sport; and the endemic corruption related to sports betting run by unscrupulous illegal syndicates, largely based out of Asia. These have resulted in proven cases of match fixing.
I am no killjoy! What people do with their money is their business. What I strongly object to as a football fan, a long-standing member of my beloved Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) and a father of three football cognoscenti, albeit two of them are staunch Liverpool fans and the other a diehard Man United one, is the blatant hypocrisy of the football establishment with regards to betting and bookies.
Consider the case of Joey Barton, the Burnley midfielder, who was recently “suspended from football and all football activity for 18 months” after he admitted to an FA misconduct charge in relation to betting.
Barton, a “bad boy” of British football, pleaded guilty to placing over a thousand bets last year in football matches or competitions, including involving his own club, in breach of FA Rule E8.
His derisory £30,000 (RM167,270) fine and the minimum 18 months’ suspension as a serial offender hardly set the right example. He is not the first footballer to fall foul of this betting folly and to get caught. Last year, Martin Demichelis, the Manchester City centre back, was similarly fined £30,000 after admitting to betting on football matches in breach of FA Rule E8.
His defence was ridiculous — first time offender, the £10,000 amount of bet was modest, the club failed to inform him about the rules on betting, it was an embarrassing act of folly.
There is a litany of footballers — from the higher echelons to the minions — who have succumbed to this aberration, and the lines between stupidity, addiction and corruption can become blurred.
Ask Paul Merson of Arsenal and Michael Owen of Liverpool — two England stalwarts — who had their fair share of gambling addiction issues.
The sad thing is that as tobacco sponsorship of sports is now ethically passé, and clubs and tournaments are avoiding obvious links with alcohol sponsorship, it seems that betting companies are the new sources of revenue, especially for the poorer clubs. The irony of the Barton case is that the very jersey he donned every time he played for the club was promoting a bookmaker as lead partner.
Here, the moral ambivalence is stark and the concepts of conflict of interest and hypocrisy have long been jettisoned in pursuit of the profit motive, and the “ethical” disclaimer oft touted to “bet responsibly” ring hollow.
The truth is that there is loads of money in betting for both the gaming companies and football establishment.
My research shows that all 20 EPL clubs have bookmakers (including Asian ones) as partners, of which 11 clubs have them as a lead partner.
Three betting companies are the lead sponsors of two EPL clubs each. Several of the clubs have major betting companies as regional partners, especially for the Asia region. Almost all the clubs have partnerships, too, with breweries, of which a recent trend is promoting Thai and Chinese beers, perhaps, reflecting the changing ownership of football clubs in the UK.
Fifa and FA rules on betting, including ignorance of the rules, insider information and match fixing are explicit — a worldwide ban on betting in football “to preserve what is great in the beautiful game”. Yet, the anomalies and governance deficits scream out. What about the business partnerships between governing bodies and clubs with bookmakers, and players and managers promoting bookmakers?
Don’t underestimate the power of bookmakers. They are cunning and use every trick in the book to attract punters. The two most beguiling blurbs in pre-match television advertising are: “For the love of the game”, and, “But this weekend, who knows?” The latter is uttered by none other than Liverpool’s respected Jurgen Klopp, the only EPL manager involved in betting adverts, oozing Teutonic certainty and presence of mind. The FA has raised concerns about the advert and Klopp will not be seen in it next season.
The spectre of being confronted with a betting kiosk at most football grounds is real. If fans want to bet on a match, let them do so at arms length, with no aiding, abetting and profiteering from their clubs. In gambling, the only real winners are the purveyors and their partners.
The House of Commons Ethics Committee this year launched an enquiry into FA governance of football. Chairman Greg Clarke assured that the FA is committed to reform.
It would do the beautiful game a real service if the committee were to extend the mandate of the enquiry beyond mere diversity and gender empowerment issues, as important as they are, to include the abolition of any business partnerships between football and betting!
Joey Barton, a ‘bad boy of British football, pleaded guilty to placing over a thousand bets last year in football matches or competitions,
including involving his own club, in breach of
FA Rule E8.