It would pay for soccer to end parasitic relationship with gambling companies?

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/21 22:53:39

Paddy Power should hang their head in shame this week and think twice before they decide to try another hilarious offer on their next gambling market after giving odds of 66/1 for ex-Aston Villa and England center half Ugo Ehiogu ­replacing Harry Redknapp in the Birmingham City hot seat. Ehiogu died in April aged 44 and people have been righty up in arms in response to what the company called a "genuine error" in its apology. 

While Ehiogu's name was only up for "five minutes," as they said, that's not the point. There is a culture where putting an ex-Villa center back alongside Black Sabbath frontman and reality star Ozzy Osbourne is somehow deemed OK. It's not, it's an example of the try-hard ­laddish dumbing down that has suffocated the modern game, and means that we can't watch a live broadcast without being two-footed tackled by the bookmaker and their banter-tastic adverts. It's deplorable. 

Think about it. Bookies are responsible for the idea of the managerial sack race existing; they are the reason we all know the "Roly-poly Goalie" and that even the mascot Grand National has seen a betting scandal. Worse still, it's ruining soccer players' lives, on and off the pitch. 

Soccer players, many of whom are men of means, have lost a fortune on gambling, and the traditional card school on the team coach has been replaced by Internet access, ease of use, perpetual downtime and bookies happy to extend a line of credit alongside odds on anything and everything. At the fat end of the wedge, earlier this year one unnamed international midfielder who plays in the Premier League was reported in Scotland's Daily Record to have lost 15 million pounds ($20 million) in gambling.  

Despite his solitary cap for England it wasn't Joey Barton but the midfielder was essentially forced into early retirement last season - and not in the good way - when he was on the wrong end of an FA ban for breaching betting rules. He got 18 months for his actions - to be clear, he was not accused of anything as serious as match-fixing - which he accepted but not without a 1,500-word parting shot in response, in which he pointed out the "hypocrisy" of the FA banning him with one hand while taking money from bookmakers Ladbrokes with the other.  

Barton said that the FA ought to look "at its own dependence on the gambling companies, their role in football and in sports broadcasting." He was right on all three counts. The FA has since ended its deal with Ladbrokes but the game's uneasy symbiosis with the betting companies continues apace. Barton's team, Burnley, were sponsored by a gambling company at the time of his ban in April, just as they are now. The Clarets are one of nine clubs in this season's Premier League to be sponsored by a betting provider - that's 45 percent, the odds of which cannot be put down to coincidence, especially since the first such Premier League shirt sponsor was only in 2002.  

No one is saying that soccer needs to ban gambling but put an end to the advertising. There are enough companies who want the space on the shirts, the billboards and the stadium that bookmakers are no longer needed to provide the cash the game needs. We are all adults - and if we are not then we should not be gambling anyway, after all - so we know that there are options galore in what is an incredibly cutthroat and competitive market. Sadly, the odds on that ban are longer than Ozzy Osbourne guiding Birmingham City to the Premier League title.

The author is a Shanghai-based freelance writer.


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