We will look back on the normalisation of gambling through football with great shame
The Big Step tries to tackle football’s relationship with gambling by walking hundreds of miles to meet with football clubs with gambling shirt sponsors to work with them and ask them to review these damaging deals, writes James Grimes | PA Images
The normalisation and glamourisation of gambling through football is something that we will all look back at with great shame.
Gambling and football have been inextricably linked for as long as I remember. I don’t recall a time where gambling advertisements weren’t plastered on kits or littered within TV broadcasts of matches. How did we get to this point? How has it become normal to refer to the ‘Sky Bet’ Football League? How is it that Alan Shearer, Jose Mourinho and famous figures glamourise products that we know lead to addiction and even suicide?
Like many others, I was a victim of the 2005 Gambling Act which gave free reign for gambling companies to infect football for profit from the pockets of the ordinary fans. It certainly worked on me. Initially believing the adverts that said ‘it matters more when there’s money on it’, I was instantly hooked from the age of 16.
The prevalence of gambling advertisement in football desensitized gambling to my teenage brain, without any awareness of the risks involved, nor understanding the addictive nature of gambling. Seeing ‘Ladbrokes’ around the pitch of an England game or watching my club, Spurs, sponsored by ‘Mansion’ created a safe image of these companies, both of which went on to exploit my vulnerabilities as an addict. Gambling operators know that football and young football fans offer a huge marketing opportunity. The relentless hijacking of the beautiful game for profit has contributed to a public health crisis and young men are most at risk.
I’m nearly two years clean of gambling and in May 2019, I founded The Big Step with Gambling with Lives. The Big Step tries to tackle football’s relationship with gambling by walking hundreds of miles to meet with football clubs with gambling shirt sponsors to work with them and ask them to review these damaging deals.
We know gambling sponsorships offer a lucrative opportunity for clubs and they aren’t going to disappear overnight. While gambling companies are permitted to be the highest bidder, they will be. That’s why in February 2020 we concluded a 100 mile walk by delivering a letter to Downing Street asking for the government to ban gambling advertising in football including:
- No gambling company logos on any kit
- No pitch-side perimeter advertising for gambling
- No in-ground advertising of any gambling companies
- No sponsorship of any football leagues by gambling companies
The sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies has been banned since August 2005. We believe that gambling should be treated the same.
This won’t happen overnight, so we will continue to work with clubs to put measures in place to support their fans affected by gambling harm - including awareness days, promotion of ‘Gamban’ (the best self-exclusion software), signposting towards NHS clinics and education schemes. I know these would have helped me.
The normalisation and glamourisation of gambling through football is something that we will all look back at with great shame. We’re not at that point yet and that’s why The Big Step will continue to walk hundreds of miles to prevent young football fans going through the same thing I did.