BET­TING, BOOK­IES CRIP­PLING FOOT­BALL WORLD

There is a litany of foot­ballers — from the higher ech­e­lons to the min­ions — who have suc­cumbed to this aber­ra­tion

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is an in­de­pen­dent Lon­don-based econ­o­mist and writer

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!

FILE PIC

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.

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