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Opinion Betting sponsorships need to go

Paul Merson’s gambling addiction documentary highlights the devastating role of betting advertisement in sport, writes BELLA KATZ

PAUL MERSON’S documentary Football, Gambling and Me, which was broadcast on Monday night, was a powerful insight into the devastating effects of addiction. The main issue with gambling is that it is promoted everywhere, particularly in the sporting industry.

In fact you can’t look at 15 football clubs in England’s top two divisions — 9 out of 20 in the Premier League — on the pitch without seeing a betting company’s logo emblazoned on the front of their shirts. 

It is hard to escape it. The ads popping up at half-time about “boosted odds,” and the LED screens wrapped around the pitch to market “free bets” in bright colours. Even the ad breaks on the radio encourage you to “gamble responsibly,” as if it’s a choice for those afflicted.

Football is for everyone and, as the game becomes increasingly inclusive, it continues to isolate those struggling with a gambling addiction.

In September 2021, a government review on the existing Gambling Act looked at the potential of banning betting sponsors on football shirts. The league’s chief executive Trevor Birch said that the possible result of the ban would cause the EFL to face a £40 million hit.

A group of former gambling addicts and bereaved relatives marched from Scotland to London protesting against betting advertisement during the Euros earlier this year.

Over 10 days, 30 people from campaign group The Big Step walked 300 miles across the country, stopping at football stadiums on their journey.

One can imagine that most fans of the sport in recovery are unable to enjoy it anymore, out of fear of relapsing. 

James Grimes, the founder of The Big Step and programme manager at Gambling With Lives, told the PA news agency: “Very quickly into my recovery, I realised I couldn’t watch football without wanting to put a bet on, because the advertising I found so triggering.”

The irony of sport is that such physical exercise is sponsored by an unhealthy way of living — drinking, gambling, junk food. It’s all enjoyable in moderation, but addicts don’t have the ability to make that choice.

It’s time for change. 

If you or someone you know has been affected by the topics in this article visit GamCare, the leading UK provider of free information, advice and support for anyone harmed by gambling.

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