Twice as many again ‘at risk’ according to new research
Gambling addiction linked to poor on-field displays and match-fixing risk
Study interviewed almost 350 players across football and cricket
Hundreds of professional footballers and cricketers in Britain are battling gambling addictions according to new research based on confidential interviews with almost 350 players.
The alarming figures, published on Wednesday, will send shock waves across both sports, raising questions whether governing bodies and clubs are doing enough to combat the problem.
Players with gambling issues are more likely to perform poorly on the pitch and experts have long warned that addicted sportsmen gamblers are more susceptible to match-fix approaches.
With a blanket ban on gambling on any football match anywhere in the world now in place for any player in England, anyone still placing bets on football also faces disciplinary action.
Tottenham and England winger Andros Townsend was fined £18,000 and banned for four months last year for gambling on matches he should not have bet on, while Norwich striker Cameron Jerome was fined £50,000 for breaching FA betting rules last year while at Stoke.
Dozens of other players have been sanctioned over the years and many more, including England internationals, have had secret treatments at clinics such as Sporting Chance for gambling addictions.
The new research was conducted on behalf of the Professional Players’ Federation – the umbrella body for players’ unions – by social research experts NatCen. The work, to be made public at a conference in Edgbaston on Wednesday, involved confidential interviews with 170 professional footballers from the Premier League downwards and 176 professional cricketers, from international level down.
It found that 6.1 per cent of the sportsmen are ‘problem gamblers’ – more than three times the rate of young men in the general population. Twice as many players again are deemed ‘at risk’.
Translated to professional football and cricket, around 200 players have serious issues and it is estimated that a further 440 are ‘at risk of gambling problems and [have] patterns of not seeking help.’
The research shows that among all players, four per cent gamble every day and 67 per cent every month.
Types of gambling range from the lottery to online sports betting, on machines at bookmakers, on horses and dogs, and at casinos.
An alarming 21 per cent of sportsmen gamble on seven or more different activities – and only 13 per cent never gamble at all. Historic surveys have shown up to a third of footballers bet on football, although that was before the current blanket ban.
‘This research shows there is a significantly higher rate of gambling problems among professional sports people than the wider population,’ says Heather Wardle, a research director at NatCen.
‘It is interesting to question why this might be. Is it due to a betting culture? Is it something about athletes’ personalities or perhaps a combination of these two?’
Brendon Batson, chairman of the Professional Players’ Federation, says: ‘There is an urgent need to break down the stigma attached to problem gambling in sport. Sportsmen are a clear “at risk” group and the whole of professional sport has a duty of care to these young men.
‘We all need to work together to expand and improve the good practice that exists on education and treatment for problem gambling.’
Gambling addictions have contributed to the destruction or serious impairment of numerous football careers.
Former Newcastle forward Michael Chopra blew millions of pounds on gambling and at one stage was being chased by gangsters for related debts. He was also charged by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in 2012 with ‘suspicious betting activity’ relating to race manipulation and given a 10-year ban from all racing.
Former West Ham and Stoke winger Matthew Etherington, former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll and former Blackburn and Spurs winger David Bentley are among other high-profile players who have talked about gambling problems and their impact on their lives.
Simon Taylor, general secretary of the PFF, believes it is the duty of governing bodies and clubs to provide effective education and support for players with gambling problems. ‘There are several issues here,’ he says. ‘There is a duty of care to the players. You also want players playing well so you need to look after them.
‘You need effective education, and treatment in place for those who need it and can ask for help. And we need to remove the stigma of gambling addiction.’
Taylor also said that it is not always helpful that professional sport, especially football, is so closely associated with gambling – with governing bodies and many clubs routinely have sponsors and commercial partners in the gambling industry. ‘Sport needs to look at the culture it is setting up around young players,’ he says.
Source: Daily Mail