Football too dependent on gambling, says minister

“We are looking at this very closely,” Nigel Adams

Football has “far too much dependency” on sponsorship from gambling companies, according to the sports minister.

Nigel Adams MP says clubs “need to look at different sources of income”.

His warning comes amid mounting scrutiny of the close relationship between sport and the betting industry.

“We’re going to be reviewing the current Gambling Act and I’m sure the link between sports – football in particular – will form a part of that,” said Adams.

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Sport, the minister also said he met the EFL’s new chairman Rick Parry this week to discuss ongoing financial concerns in the Football League.

Earlier this month the Football Association was criticised for selling the live streaming rights to FA Cup matches to betting firms via a third party.

Seven gambling websites were able to show some third round matches exclusively to anyone who placed a bet or put a deposit in their account in the 24 hours before kick-off.

The deal sparked outrage at a time when the FA were campaigning for mental health, and the betting companies then offered to give up their exclusivity.

But the controversy reinforced fears football is being used to normalise gambling among young fans via sponsorship of shirts, and advertising at matches and during TV coverage.

Half of all Premier League clubs have betting firms as shirt sponsors, with the figure rising to 15 in the Championship. The Football League itself is sponsored by Sky Bet.

Earlier this season, Huddersfield Town were fined by the FA after wearing a kit advertising a bookmaker’s logo that breached regulations in a friendly.

“We have to look at this very carefully because problem gambling leads to serious social problems, and in some cases people have done drastic things and taken their lives, so we are looking at this very closely,” said Adams.

“Occasionally it boils over and you get incidents like you had with some clubs who get into bother over it, like at Huddersfield Town, and the stunt there.

“So there’s way too much dependency, and I’m sure the football authorities are aware of that.”

Last year, Britain’s biggest gambling companies voluntarily agreed to a “whistle-to-whistle” television advertising ban, ending commercials during live sports broadcasts.

But the government is now to review gambling laws, and is considering regulating the way bookmakers advertise through football.

But Labour – and anti-gambling campaigners – have called for shirt sponsorship by betting companies to be outlawed, as in countries like Italy. Adams would not be drawn on whether a blanket ban on shirt sponsorship by bookmakers was possible.

The EFL has said gambling companies contribute £40m to its clubs each year through sponsorship. In the Premier League the figure is estimated to be around £70m.

Adams’ warning comes at a time of financial turmoil in the EFL. Last week, Derby County became the latest club to be charged for breaching financial rules over the sale of its stadium.

A review is also being conducted into the league’s governance and financial sustainability after the collapse of Bury FC earlier this season, with a number of other clubs having struggled to pay wages.

“It’s not a healthy picture. There aren’t many football clubs in the EFL that are profitable,” said Adams.

“I have met with the new EFL chief executive (Rick Parry) and I’m encouraged by what he said in terms of their review into broader governance.

“It’s not healthy to see clubs like Bury go out of the league. You’ve got question marks with clubs like Macclesfield. We’re taking a very keen interest.”

The EFL told BBC Sport it has “open and regular dialogue with the Government and relevant stakeholders regarding football’s ongoing relationship with the gambling industry”.

The EFL added in a statement it believes the gambling industry should make “a financial contribution back into football”.

“This is currently being achieved through commercial partnerships with the EFL and a number of our member clubs,” they said. “However, it is important that such arrangements are delivered in a responsible manner.

“With more than £40m a season paid by the sector to the League and its clubs, it continues to be an important part of the EFL’s financial model alongside a domestic broadcasting deal worth £119m a year and a number of other key revenue streams including ticketing, sponsorship and negotiated solidarity payments achieved through the sale of media rights.”

Racism a ‘cancer in the game’

Adams also described the current issues around racism in football as “absolutely shocking”.

Incidents of racism have marred a number of Premier League games this season, while England’s Euro 2020 qualifying victory over Bulgaria in October 2019 was halted on multiple occasions due to racist chanting by supporters.

“It’s a cancer in the game that we’ve had for many years,” said Adams. “The thought was that now we’re in 2020 we would have got to a better place. It’s not happened.

“It’s good the players are taking back control and we’ve seen that in a number of games with the England-Bulgaria game in particular. The football authorities, the Premier League, the FA, the EFL, they’re very mindful of the problem.

“It’s absolutely crucial we work with everybody because it’s a societal problem, not just a football problem. Every time we meet with the football authorities we are being very clear and asking them for updates on where they’re getting in terms of actions.

“I think what it might possibly take is some prosecutions. We need to, ideally, see the Crown Prosecution Service taking these cases forward and bringing people to book and that may very well have an impact.”

World Cup 2030 bid a ‘work in progress’

The sports minister also confirmed ongoing talks on a “potential bid” for the United Kingdom and Ireland to host the World Cup in 2030, though he has called for a more “transparent” bidding process after the controversy that surrounded England’s failed attempt to host the 2018 tournament.

Since the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively in December 2010, widespread corruption has been exposed in the global game, including allegations of bribery and payment for votes.

“We want to bid for the World Cup in 2030, it’s about time we had the World Cup here,” said Adams. “But it has to be far more transparent than it potentially was in the past and I believe that is happening.

“The prime minister is incredibly keen we land the World Cup. I want to see it here in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“As you probably know we’ve got some talks going on with the devolved nations and Ireland, I met again with the FA last week to discuss the potential bid.

“It’s a work in progress but I think if we have the opportunity of being the European host nation option, I think we’ve got a very good chance.”