Activists take part in a three-day march to end the habit of playing football | Football
A a lot started to make sense to Peter Keogh following the suicide of his son, Lewis. The 2 a.m. requests for an online game of Scrabble, for example, in the months before his death. Lewis, who died in 2013 aged 34, was looking to break free from the hold gambling had on him. “His suicide note said he was too ashamed to talk about it,” Peter said. “We didn’t know he was living with this horrible addiction.”
From Friday, Lewis’ former partner Jane and her daughter Jilly will be part of a group of 40 marching from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Recovering addicts, bereaved families and others affected will combine. The effort is part of The Big Step, a campaign to end all gambling-related advertising and sponsorship in football, overseen by the charity Gambling With Lives. Peter Keogh and his wife, Sadie, are longtime supporters.
“Football clubs have a responsibility to the young people who come to support them,” says Peter. “Every football shirt or item that has a betting logo presents the subconscious to the seven-year-old who loves the game: ‘It must be nice if my team wears it.’ It’s very dangerous, but that’s how advertising works. It’s subtle but effective.”
Lewis’ ashes are scattered under the Hillsborough ground. Sheffield Wednesday have apologized to their parents after the game-related mark later appeared at the stadium. “If you go out and watch, hard work will earn you your [alternative] advertising,” says Peter.
Scotland is important because its two biggest clubs, Celtic and Rangers, have the names of the gambling companies on the front of their strips. The Scottish Professional Football League, Scottish Cup and League Cup no longer have bookmakers as title sponsors, but until recently all had. “Gaming has always been a big financial contributor to football’s finances,” SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said last year.
Peter Keogh thinks politicians are realizing that this alliance is harmful. “It will take Parliament to change things, but the momentum is in our favor now,” he says of the ban on sponsorship of gambling in football. “If it takes time, it probably takes more lives. The day when we have no sports betting ads will be a great day for me. »
The three-day march will pass by the homes of Spartans, Hibs, Hearts, Livingston, Motherwell, Hamilton, Celtic, Partick Thistle and Rangers before ending at Hampden Park on Sunday evening. Hearts represent an interesting case. “In 2014, we made the decision not to take any direct sponsorship from gaming companies,” says Catriona McCallum, director of marketing and communications. “We, like many clubs, strive to have a positive impact on our community and this has been an important step for us. We have been fortunate to find a large number of corporate sponsors who are attracted to our social responsibility. »
Among the attendees is Kelly Field. “I suffered from an online gambling addiction for many years, which was fueled by a relentless barrage of advertising,” she says. “The advertising and sponsorship of gambling, in football and elsewhere, makes people think gambling is completely normal and safe, when the reality is very different.”
Field contemplated suicide. So did James Grimes, who founded The Big Step after a 12-year battle with addiction. Although he thinks the work of parliaments is important, Grimes believes football fans can play their own part.
“There is a fundamental value in persuading clubs and their fans to support this,” he says. “If we can get the fans to put pressure on their clubs – and that happened recently at Norwich City – then we can bring the clubs with us. We now have 18 supporting our campaign. I have no doubt that one day gambling advertising will no longer be allowed in football, so these clubs are getting ahead of themselves. We hope our presence on the pitch will persuade at least some clubs to rethink their partnerships or commit to moving away from them.
“More and more clubs are more socially conscious. More and more people are seeing the harm done. The footballers themselves are also struggling; the Sporting Chance Clinic said gambling is now the biggest addiction among footballers. So the clubs know what is going on.
Grimes and Peter Keogh emphasize that they are “not anti-gambling”; nuance is important. Grimes says, “I sincerely support people’s right to have a bet. We are not trying to stop this. We are on the side of the average player. We want the game to be as safe as possible. Removing ads from football won’t stop people from betting. Thirty years ago people knew where to go and place a bet without needing it to be on the front of a football shirt or on LED signs around a pitch.
The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents gambling companies, said the industry had provided vital funding during the pandemic, including £40million to the English Football League, and that a study last year by Professor Ian McHale of the University of Liverpool “concluded that there was no evidence that sponsorship of clubs or leagues by betting operators influenced betting participation.” The BGC added that betting advertising and sponsorship had to adhere to strict guidelines and that safer gambling messages were regularly and prominently displayed.
Reports suggest the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s review of the Gambling Act 2005 could lead to a ban on gambling-related shirt sponsorships from of 2023. For now, the battle for activists continues.
“I never thought it was football’s fault,” Grimes says. “It’s the fault of regulation, weak regulation that allows gaming companies to exploit loopholes and advertise anywhere, anytime, to anyone. Football the love it because it’s easy. I hope this walk will encourage clubs to make the right choice.