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Labour Party Promises to End Gambling Industry Shirt Sponsorship

by Glenn Baird - September 9, 2017

The deputy leader of the UK’s Labour party, Tom Watson, has spoken out against the influence of gambling in football by promising to have company logos banned from the front of football strips if his party ever finds themselves back in power.

This isn’t the first time that Watson has spoken out against the UK’s gambling industry. In fact, it was only last week, following the Gambling Commission’s decision to fine 888, that he was quoted in the Guardian saying:

“This outrageous case is more evidence of a gambling industry that needs to do more to protect vulnerable customers. With 430,000 problem gamblers in the UK and over 2 million more at risk of addiction, the sector has to take responsibility and help people not to bet more than they can afford.”

With a deluge of negative press over the last week, it would appear that gambling is going face the scrutiny of politicians who will use the failings of certain firms to tar the entire industry with the same brush and subsequently raise their own profile within the media.

Watson claims that a Labour Party in a position of power would encourage The Football Association to implement the changes by having them alter their own rules and regulations without direct state interference. However, he went on to say that if the FA failed to do so, a Labour government would devise laws that would supersede The FA’s authority if they needed to.

Watson went on to elaborate on why he and his party believes that the changes need to be made:

“Football has to play its part in tackling Britain’s hidden epidemic of gambling addiction,” he said.
“Shirt sponsorship sends out a message that football clubs don’t take problem gambling among their own fans seriously enough. It puts gambling brands in front of fans of all ages, not just at matches but on broadcasts and highlights packages on both commercial television and the BBC.”

There is no doubt that England’s Premier League is reliant on the money that teams receive from gambling firms, with 9 out the 20 teams in the division currently wearing betting companies as shirt sponsors. Outside of the top flight there are 16 clubs in England who depend on shirt sponsorship from gambling firms. There are also teams like Stoke City who have a stadium named after a betting firm.

Online betting is huge business in English football and it is hard to engage with the sport without being aware of gambling opportunities. Along with the shirt sponsors and the pitch side billboards all you have to do is turn on the radio or the TV and certain channels will keep you updated on odds and markets that can be exploited in-play.
The FA themselves have recently ended a sponsorship contract with Ladbrokes, not necessarily for the protection of problem gamblers, as media outlets might suggest, but primarily in an attempt to avoid the conflict of interest that arises when those involved in the game gamble on its various outcomes.

This prevalence of gambling influence within the game is beginning to draw unfair comparisons with the tobacco sponsorship deals in sport that came to an end in 2005. Watson himself stated that:

“Just as tobacco companies were banned from sponsoring sporting events and putting their logos on branded goods because of the harm smoking can cause,” he said, “it’s right that we recognise the harm problem gambling does and take gambling logos off football shirts.”

The comparison has to be considered a lazy one, a knee-jerk one akin to mentioning Nazi Germany when trying to win an argument. The negative impact of the two industries cannot be compared when only 0.8% of the UK’s population are considered problem gamblers and 17.2% of adult population smoke. There is also no way to smoke a healthy cigarette, whereas gamblers can do so responsibly.

It has been made clear over the last week that gambling is set to become a major talking point in the House of Commons over the next few years and with the government set to release a review of the gambling industry it is very likely that some form of change will be coming.

Whether Watson will be given the opportunity to make good on his pledge is something we’ll just have to wait and see. The Conservatives may well beat him to it or he might never actually be in a position to put his money where his mouth is.