Bookmakers urged to do more as betting crisis becomes a ‘perfect storm’ in top-level sport
Problem gambling in football and other sports has reached "crisis" point and bookmakers must do more to prevent it, experts will warn today at the launch of a major drive to boost awareness of its life-threatening consequences.
With the surge in referrals for treatment of sportspeople with an out-of-control betting habit showing no sign of abating, the Professional Players Federation and GambleAware have come together to create a self-help tool aimed specifically at the industry's biggest performers.
The PPF, which represents elite footballers, rugby players, cricketers and other top sportsmen and women, will also urge "responsible bookmakers" to ensure sponsorship agreements with a sport include provision for mandatory education for participants about the risks of problem gambling.
The wake-up call comes three years after the PPF published alarming research which found professional sportspeople were three times more likely than the general public to develop the crippling compulsion.
The Sporting Chance Clinic, famed for treating sportspeople with alcohol or drug-related conditions, has in recent years seen the vast majority of those seeking help do so for problem gambling, which, it is claimed, has the highest suicide rate of any addiction.
A new website, www.ppf.org.uk/pg, will be officially unveiled today during GambleAware's fifth annual Harm-Minimisation Conference at The King's Fund in London.
The site includes films featuring powerful testimonies from former Premier League players Clarke Carlisle and John Hartson, and former professional Scott Davies, each of whom has battled the addiction and who open up about its devastating effects.
Mark Etches, the GambleAware chief executive, said: "The relationship between sport and gambling is at a crisis. Gambling-related advertising and promotion is embedded in professional sport generally, and football in particular.
"We're delighted to fund this important initiative, which has enabled the PPF to take a proactive stance, helping to educate professional players about the risks and encouraging those who may already be struggling with a gambling problem to talk about it and seek help.
"This isn't a job for the PPF alone, and we're keen to see more clubs think more deeply about the impact of gambling-related harm on their players and fans alike."
The chairman of the PPF, West Bromwich Albion icon Brendon Batson, added: "Many player associations are already doing excellent gambling education for their players but, as the gambling environment evolves, we are looking at new ways of engaging with the players.
"Thanks to GambleAware, we have created a world-leading resource for professional athletes about problem gambling. Everyone needs to be aware of their duty of care to players when it comes to gambling."
The website and films do not tell sportspeople not to gamble but provide guidelines on minimising their risk of becoming an addict while doing so. They include: being sober and in a good mood; setting limits on time spent betting and the amount of money wagered; and keeping a record of winnings and losses. They also warn against chasing losses, a trap highly-competitive sportspeople are particularly at risk of falling into.
Three years ago, the PPF published a study of almost 350 footballers and cricketers. One in 10 respondents said they gambled to "fit in", one in four said they were encouraged by team-mates to do it, even more said industry sponsorship had an impact on problem gambling, and nearly one in three thought their team's links with the gambling industry "encouraged" them to bet.
The links between sport and bookmakers have grown in recent years, with almost half of Premier League clubs sporting gambling logos on their shirts - something Labour recently announced it would ban if it came to power.
Virtually all teams now have an "official betting partner", while the English Football League recently extended Sky Bet's title sponsorship of its three divisions by another five years.
A study found 95 per cent of television advertising breaks during UK football matches featured at least one gambling advert, a decade after the law was changed to relax restrictions on such adverts.
The Football Association did decide this summer to cut all commercial ties with betting firms, but that was due to a perceived conflict of interest with its role as a regulator - including policing its blanket ban on gambling on the game itself.
Sporting Chance chief executive Colin Bland says in one of the films released today: "Sportspeople have time; it's a stressful place; many time[s] away from home; and gambling's easy. The other thing that sportspeople tend to have is they think that they've got a little bit of expertise, that they can beat the system.
"I think it's a cocktail that creates a perfect storm, that if I'm a sportsperson that might have emotional problems, that gambling is the choice of what I might use to fix me."
© Daily Telegraph, London