Football’s gambling addiction – the fun has stopped

Something strange happened this morning – I found myself agreeing with Richard Keyes. Yes, he of ‘did you smash it?’ fame. He of ‘it was only banter’ fame. He of the having an affair with his daughter’s friend when his wife had cancer fame. He of the ‘I’ve never seen any human rights offences in Qatar’ fame. He of that video for BeIn Sports showing a presenter around his house (if you haven’t watched it, you really, really should).

He’s not a man you ever really want to be agreeing with. You know that it’s a serious issue when you do. By far and away the worst aspect of Kevin Pietersen’s axing from the England cricket team was that I found myself agreeing with Piers Morgan. Oh, the shame. Things were so desperate that I was agreeing with that odious prick.

As a stopped clock is right twice a day, however, Richard Keys put something out on Twitter with which I wholly agree:

Gambling advertising in sport, not just football, has gone way beyond an acceptable level. If you want to watch sport these days, you have to be prepared to be bombarded with special offers, the latest odds and new ways to create your own bets and lose more money.

BT Sport’s lamentable coverage of the Ashes last winter was constantly interrupted by gambling adverts. In a zombie like, shell-shocked state in the early hours as England capitulated with an inevitability that only England can muster, you were constantly being encouraged to have a bet on the action. It was a blessed relief to see an advert for anything else.

Football on television has, for many years now, been propped up by gambling advertising. Sport used to be funded by tobacco advertising, with brands such as Embassy, B&H, Malboro and Rothman’s synonymous with 1980s and 1990s sport, from snooker, through to cricket and Formula 1.

Then it was decided that smoking was bad. It needed to be stubbed out. How could our children be subjected to the cruel advertising of these monstrous firms? It was banned.

Sport was in something of a pickle. It was largely reliant upon the tobacco money. How would it replace it? Along came the gambling firms. And they have infested every area of every sport, encouraging everyone to have a bang on this and that it matters more when there’s money on it.

Nearly half of Premier League clubs have as their shirt sponsor a gambling firm. Every Premier League club sells advertising space to gambling companies via pitch side hoardings. Even on the BBC, where there is no advertising per se, viewers of football on Match of the Day are still subjected to the gambling firms via these means. There is no escape.

Even in the newspapers, stories are cynically being written based upon the latest odds from a bookmaker. Player A is definitely moving to Club B because this bookmaker has slashed its odds! It’s going to happen! Might as well have a bet on it with them! Look, they’re even telling you it’s going to happen!

As we decided that smoking was bad, when will we wholly accept that gambling, too, can be bad? Now, I do gamble; I do enjoy going to the horse racing and I do enjoy the odd punt on the football and the cricket. But enjoy is the operative word. I have a lid on it and never indulge in high stakes betting and never expect to win. I also enjoy a drink, but recognise the problems that alcohol can cause.

When the funs stops. Stop. As the adverts always conclude with. This is just the gambling industry’s answer to ‘Smoking kills’. They don’t care. Just keep pouring your money in, they won’t stop you and they will spend vast amounts on encouraging you.

Of course, gambling is an over-18s activity and adults do, ultimately, need to take responsibility for their actions. No one forces them to gamble. No one forced them to smoke. We will always have gambling addicts, alcoholics, chain smokers and drug abusers. The heroin addicts didn’t get into the practice off the back of television advertising, either.

The danger with the sheer volume of gambling advertising, though, is that it normalises the practice. Everyone else is doing it, so you might as well – go on, you’ll enjoy it. And we’ve got a great offer to get you started, in fact, we’re practically giving you money! Go on, everyone else is. Go on, go on, go on; it’s like Mrs. Doyle in Father Ted constantly prodding you to have a flutter.

So, I agree with Richard Keys. Even if he has appeared in adverts for one them. Even if he is Richard Keys. The fun has stopped. We’ve got to stop this.

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