The English Football Association is set to end its sponsorship deals with betting companies. This decision comes two months after former Manchester City and Burnley midfielder Joey Barton received an 18-month suspension and a £30,000 fine for breaching the FA's rules on betting misconduct.
Last week, the FA announced its decision to end all commercial agreements with gambling companies, following a 3-month review. The FA imposes a blanket ban on football players and coaches, forbidding them from betting on football matches. Despite such strict regulation, the FA was receiving £4m a year sponsorship from Ladbrokes. Due to this, the FA has been subject to some serious criticism from both the public and football players, many accusing it of hypocrisy. Joey Barton has publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the FA’s conduct in this area by stressing the importance of not endorsing the betting companies. Barton maintains that the environment where the FA both discourages and endorses pool betting is not motivating players to steer clear from it.
The Gambling Act 2005 regulates various forms of gambling, including gaming, betting and lotteries. The objective of the Act is to ensure gambling is conducted in a fair and open way and that children and other vulnerable persons are protected from possible harm gambling can cause. Football can be classified as one of the most influential sports in the world, enjoyed by millions of children and young adults and the FA’s advertising of betting companies could be seen as out of line with this objective.
The FA’s blanket ban on football players and coaches betting came into force in 2014, and the rationale behind it was to crack down on match-fixing in football, and make the football experience more open and fair. Section 42 of the Act deals with cheating, which is defined as an instance where a person helps himself or a third party to improve their chances of winning. Such behaviour constitutes an offence punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine.
Although the FA’s decision may reduce the level of criticism it receives for having double standards when it comes to gambling, there is likely still more that will be done in coming months in order to tackle match-fixing accusations and enhance the integrity of the sport in the UK. It will also be interesting to see how other sports will respond.