Gambling addiction in sport will become 'huge issue'
Published 21/11/2016 | 02:30
The new president of the Law Society believes betting companies should be restricted from advertising at sporting events as gambling addiction is "the greatest unspoken mental illness in the country".
Stuart Gilhooly, solicitor for the Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland, has also called for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to be more understanding of athletes who test positive for recreational drugs.
His comments stem from his involvement in the case of former Shelbourne soccer player Craig Walsh, who was banned from playing for a year after testing positive for cocaine.
Mr Walsh, who had a severe gambling addiction, was originally banned for two years, the mandatory minimum term called for under WADA rules.
However, this was reduced after it was found there was "no significant fault or negligence" on his part because his mental health had impaired his judgment.
Mr Gilhooly represented Mr Walsh and said the case showed the devastating impact gambling addiction can have.
"It is a big issue for young people, but sportspeople particularly because they have time on their hands," he said.
"I think it is the most misunderstood mental illness in this country and worldwide. It is going to become a huge issue."
Mr Gilhooly believes it is "wrong" for betting firms to be advertised at or in conjunction with sports events.
"Nearly every club has a betting partner. The FAI has a betting partner. The point is that everywhere you look you are being encouraged to take a bet and some people can't handle it," he said.
"What happened with Craig is that he was suffering from a chronic gambling addiction. He lost a lot of money one night and went on a bender.
"At the end of that bender he was offered cocaine. He took it. It was the only time he had ever done it. He played a match two days later and a drugs test was done after it."
Mr Gilhooly is acutely aware of the damage caused by drugs in sport, but he said WADA needed to re-examine its rules for cases such as Mr Walsh's.
"I think WADA need to relax their rules. I think people in that situation need help. They don't need punishment," he said.