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Marco Floreale – Head of the Sport Law Division at Wollens looks at the issue of betting within sport and how fines and penalties can affect players behaviour.

What do Ivan Toney, Kieran Trippier, Joey Barton and Daniel Sturridge all have in common? 

If you said all English footballers that have represented England at senior level, whilst you would be correct, for the purpose of this question you would be wrong …. read on for more.

They have in fact all been banned from playing the beautiful game because of breaking gambling rules in football as players. This has been either betting on football games they are directly involved in or not and passing on privileged information to family/friends.  The breaches were collectively between 2006 and 2021. A period of 15 years where it would seem nothing has changed or been learnt – from either the players or the governing bodies and the Government. 

The exact wording of the rule that was breached is: A participant shall not use any information to football which the participant has obtained by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available at that time for or in relation to betting. 

Given the breaches mentioned here cover 15 years the Football Association brought in new rules only as recently as 2014 to cover not only games players were involved in but also football related matters such as appointment of managers, team selection and transfer of players. But did it work or have the desired effect? 

The players named had bans ranging from 10 weeks (Kieran Trippier) to 18 months, which was reduced to 13 months on appeal (Joey Barton), and fines from £30,000 (Barton again) to £150,000  (Daniel Sturridge) 

What stands out is that Sturridge initially had the shortest ban but the highest fine (this was increased later by the FA and ratified by FIFA) whereas conversely Barton had the longest ban but the lowest fine from the players named above.  

When you consider the money elite premiership players earn per week and the number of breaches that occurred, 1,260 bets placed by Joey Barton whereas Kieran Tripper had just one offence (not even a bet) should the fines be increased or should the bans be longer?  Longer bans would possibly deter other players to stop and think? Because let’s face it all the players want to do is play, the fines are irrelevant in the scheme of things. 

Another viable consideration on top of the increased fines/length of ban idea is to educate the players which in turn should educate the next generation. The valid point regarding education, which hopefully leads to rehabilitation, has been suggested recently from Gareth Southgate and Thomas Frank – elite managers who have a platform and a voice that can be heard. 

In the middle of this you have the most recent high-profile case of Ivan Toney, the Brentford and England striker. His ban comes after an investigation that revealed that Toney had been betting, amongst other things, on his team to lose and that he was diagnosed with a gambling addiction. 

Again, if you look at the Joey Barton case, he had over 15,000 bets placed against the 232 that Toney accepted, yet no diagnosis of a gambling addiction – is that not hypocrisy?  Barton is still involved in the game and doing a good job as a manager with Bristol Rovers, where he has been in charge since February 2021 but does not have the title and possibly stigma of a gambling addict hanging over him. Is that fair?  

Football has always had a relationship with gambling, albeit purely financial due to the sponsoring of topflight clubs and whilst this will end in the 2025/2026 season for shirt sponsorship (the front of their matchday shirts) it has not been eradicated in its entirety as clubs will be able to have gambling brands on shirt sleeves and LED advertising. 

Surely the likes of West Ham United, Newcastle and Brentford (Toney’s current club) are appealing and attractive to other mainstream sponsors with deep pockets that have no links to gambling? If the Manchester clubs can along with Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea  is it not unreasonable to think that the three clubs named have the right kerb appeal to land a big sponsor that is not a gambling brand? 

The estimated value of these sponsorships is rumoured to be around the £60 million mark. If other sports can distance themselves from tobacco advertising in its entirety, Snooker and Formula 1, then surely Football can follow. 

According to the IMARC Group the football betting industry is valued at $3.2 billion (£2.5 billion) and expected to surpass $4 billion (£3.2 billion) by 2028. Given that in the United Kingdom Football is our number one sport why does, as another example, the English Football League (EFL) have a 10 year sponsorship from SKY Bet (it commenced 2013/2014 season)? 

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In summary, the regulation must be tighter and stricter and maybe our number one sport should concentrate on being a sport-driven business rather than a business-driven model. Business will automatically follow due to the success of football which is a brand in itself, being front and centre in the UK, the respective success of English teams in European competitions, the lure of playing in the premiership and that other sponsors pay in the region of £40 – 47 million per year. 

Does it need the money generated from gambling brands and the issues that come with gambling and addiction?