Kick the anti-gambling moralists out of football

Wayne Rooney’s deal with a betting firm is great news for football.

Jon Bryan

Topics Politics UK

There is a lot to dislike about football today, but the relationship between football clubs and gambling companies is not one of them. Too many commentators are exercised by what goes on off the pitch, particularly by football’s association with betting companies. Earlier this month, a deal struck between Wayne Rooney and betting firm 32Red caused considerable outrage. Derby County signed Rooney on a reported £90,000 per week deal, heavily subsidised by 32Red’s sponsorship. Allegedly, the firm chose the number on Rooney’s shirt – 32 – to match the name of the company.

The deal made it possible for Wayne Rooney, England’s top goalscorer, to return to English football. Apparently, we are not supposed to welcome this. Politicians and religious figures instead complained that the deal with Rooney shows us how football is in the pockets of the gambling industry.

‘Players need to start using their considerable power to reject gambling’s influence on football’, said Church of England gambling spokesperson Dr Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans. Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on gambling, said: ‘When will celebrities realise that involvement in gambling is not right or moral? Many people look to Wayne Rooney as a role model and yet he is prepared to sell his soul.’ Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson complained that the deal ‘prioritises profit over fan welfare’.

Former Labour sports minister Richard Caborn described the deal as ‘a bit crass’. ‘Wayne Rooney, who has got kids himself, should perhaps know this is not the brightest [thing to do]’, Caborn added. Nigel Adams, the Conservative sports minister, described the ploy as ‘very crafty’. He appealed to bosses at Derby County ‘to look within themselves and think about the impact that problem gambling can have on some in society, particularly vulnerable people and youngsters’. Even Wayne’s wife, Coleen, was unhappy with the sponsorship deal, according to the tabloids.

Derby County fans, on the other hand, seem to be delighted. All the criticism of the signing has brought attention to a club that would never normally get this level of publicity. Ryan Bourne, in the Telegraph, spoke for many football supporters by welcoming the move, calling it ‘a masterstroke’. He reminded everyone that well over half of the teams in the Championship – the league Rooney is playing in – are sponsored by gambling companies. The league itself is also sponsored by SkyBet.

The gambling industry is pouring money into football, and this is a good thing for the sport. It means that clubs like Derby County can bring in big-name players like Rooney. While anti-gambling commentators talk as if this were drug money coming from the mafia, betting firms are legitimate businesses that use sponsorship to attract new punters and increase their market share.

People are right to complain about some of the changes to football in recent years. VAR and other rule changes have dominated football chatshows and have taken up many a column inch. But at least these debates are about the sport itself. Most fans are less bothered about what logo or number appears on the players’ shirts or on the advertising hoardings than they are about the quality on the pitch.

Football fans should resist the temptation to go along with the anti-gambling crusaders. Regulation dictating who can and cannot sponsor football could stifle the beautiful game. If all football sponsorship has to pass a ‘decency’ or ‘ethics’ test, your team might be next to have its funding pulled. That would be bad news for football.

Jon Bryan lives and works in Newcastle, and is treasurer of The Great Debate. He tweets about gambling at @JonBryanPoker.

Picture by: Getty.

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Ven Oods

20th August 2019 at 1:46 pm

“Players need to start using their considerable power to reject gambling’s influence on football…”

While were at it, shouldn’t all the workers in the arms industry picket their employers to manufacture ploughshares instead?

In an ideal world…

Hana Jinks

19th August 2019 at 8:39 pm

Commercialism has destroyed sport, anyway. The mob used to run the numbers rackets until the government took them over. They provide games such as the lottery and fruit machines, and neglect to educate anyone properly re risk : Hegelianism 101.
They then provide the social services of warning of the dangers, and the solutions to the problems that they’ve caused.
Betfair is an exchange between punters with a small commission paid to the company. The parasitical corps serve our parasitical dictatorship.

James Knight

19th August 2019 at 6:52 pm

I always thought it weird that spread betting is attractive to city types because it is gambling and therefore attracts lower taxes than other forms of investment. And while new proposals limited the stake on betting shop “fixed odds” games to a £2, in spread betting you can have theoretically unlimited losses.

Then there are things like derivatives and options which are a kind of spread bet on stocks and shares. That is a multi-trillion dollar market that many suggest is creating huge systemic risk to the economy due to the counter-party risk being impossible to fathom. How many of the anti gambling moralisers are calling for derivative markets to be closed down? Or is it that coke-snorting traders are of less concern than the type of people who going in betting shops?

Hana Jinks

19th August 2019 at 8:48 pm


Martin Bishop

19th August 2019 at 6:49 pm

“Kick the anti-gambling moralists out of football”. It’s still not clear after reading this article what this statement even means from the perspective of freedom of speech and censorship.

Linda Payne

19th August 2019 at 4:27 pm

4% of punters generate 75% of profits for gambling firms; they are known in the trade as ‘mug punters’ who are often given tickets to fixtures and encouraged to part with their money. The trouble is that by trying to medicalise a gambling problem you are taking the individuals agency because at the end of the day, no matter how bloody hard it is, they can stop if they really want to. The firms do not have the responsibility to deal with your habit, they profit from it so why would they? We are far too moralising in this country, we are not children we are adults and can choose

Hana Jinks

19th August 2019 at 8:46 pm

I agree with what you said, but that stat…that doesn’t sound right. I know of the people that you mention; they lose thousands a week, on average. Lol, if that’s true, then it’s still ..almost unbelievable.

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Gregory Buswell

19th August 2019 at 9:53 am

Gambling is a huge problem in the UK. Anyone who denies that is clueless.

Not that I think adverts on football shirts or Rooney being given squad number 32 make much difference. Surely people aren’t that dimwitted.

Danny Rees

19th August 2019 at 9:36 am

I knew a guy who used to gamble and turned into an anti gambling campaigner who said a cereal called Choco Roulette would turn kids to gambling.

These people are mad.

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