THE gambling industry has money to burn and companies from the sector are keen to exert their influence on football. Game of the People receives invitations every week to advertise or plant content from betting companies from every corner of the world. We refuse any offers of taking marketing copy for the site as we are opposed on moral grounds.

However, professional football in Britain is always eager to take money from gambling companies even though the UK has a growing number of people with addiction problems. Notts County’s Matt Tootle is the latest player to admit to being a compulsive punter and has confirmed that gambling is rife in football.

Of the top two divisions in English football, 26 clubs have gambling-related shirt sponsors, nine in the Premier and 17 in the Championship.

Little wonder that the UK’s National Health Service, Simon Stevens, said the Premier League is fuelling gambling addiction and should push its sponsors to provide funds for clinics. The Daily Telegraph reported that no foreign betting company with shirt sponsorship deals with English clubs has pledged any money to the main charity that deals with gambling addicition and a year ago, the figure donated was just £ 11,000.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the UK has 430,000 problem gamblers, although some sources claim the figure could be as high as two million. Around 95% of all TV advertising breaks during football screenings feature at least one gambling advertisement – we’ve all seen Ray Winstone’s face preaching responsible betting.

However, clubs are not being totally responsible with some placing betting ads on web pages aimed at a junior audience. This is against the ruling of the Advertising Standards Authority which states that under-18s should not be exposed to gambling advertising.

The Guardian’s Greg Wood pointed out that shirt sponsorship is highly prized by Asian companies because English football betting has long been part of the culture in south and south-east Asia. “99.9% of the customer that firms such as FUN88, LaBa 360 and ManbetX are trying to attract will never watch a Premier League match in person or even in the country where it is being played,” said Wood.

While top level football has no misgivings in taking money from an industry that has a chequered history, some clubs in non-league do have values and a strong moral code. Take Dulwich Hamlet, who were none too happy about the Isthmian League’s deal with Betting.net, who sponsored the league’s performance of the month and fair play awards.

Dulwich, in the spirit of cooperation, accepted the league’s decision to take the sponsorship from Betting.net, but then announced: “We have also taken the opportunity to express our views on sponsorship from the gambling industry and reiterate our club position on this. As part of these discussions, it has been agreed that should the club gain financially from the sponsorship then it will donate that money to a charity that supports those with gambling addictions.”

Once again, hats off to Dulwich. Perhaps the big-time clubs should take note.

Sources: BBC, Independent, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian.

Photo: PA