The Government must press ahead with banning gambling sponsors on shirts, according to 20 EFL and non-league clubs who insist football can thrive without the cash pipeline.
A letter penned to ministers is the latest move from betting harm awareness campaigners who fear ministers may be wavering over radical reform ahead of a landmark White Paper.
Boris Johnson’s proposals to shake up the industry are expected after Easter, with a draft finalized by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport with Downing Street for approval.
Championship high-flyers Luton Town and executives from Bolton Wanderers, Tranmere Rovers and Forest Green are among signatories on the letter saying the game has a “moral duty” to cut ties with gambling.
“As owners, directors, and executives responsible for our clubs, we have witnessed the harmful growth of gambling sponsorship and advertising in football, including the negative impact on our fans,” the letter, coordinated by the Gambling With Lives campaign group, says.
“This is why we have backed The Big Step’s campaign to kick gambling advertising out of football……A ban on gambling logos on shirts would be a significant acceptance of the harm caused, but we would encourage you to include all gambling advertising in stadiums and competition sponsorship so every young fan can go to any football match – home and away – free of inducements to gamble.”
Downing Street is known to have been considering a betting sponsor ban in sport for several years, but, with concerns raised around the survival of sports such as horse racing, some sort of compromise appears likely.
Carolyn Harris, chair of the all-party group for gambling-related harm, and Lord Foster, chair of a peers gambling reform group, last month outlined what they believe is a “balanced approach.”
In a letter to the Culture Secretary, the two Westminster figures detail a “carve out” to spare horse and greyhound racing while tough curbs ensure no gambling warnings of any kind in other sports.
‘There is overwhelming consensus about harm caused’
At the start of the football season, Bolton made the rare decision of cutting all ties with gambling firms. However, in the Premier League, nine of the 20 top-tier clubs have gambling firms as their front-of-shirt sponsor.
In the new letter, signatories, who also include Chippenham Town, Dulwich Hamlet, Billericay Town and Lewes FC, write: “As trusted hubs of our community, we have a social and ethical responsibility to our young fans and wider fanbase to create the safest possible environment to watch their heroes.This is not compatible with something that causes more than 400 suicides every year in England alone.
“There is overwhelming consensus about the harm caused by gambling marketing, with the betting industry themselves even offering a voluntary whistle-to-whistle ban on TV advertising during live games. Sadly, measures like this are relatively ineffective as it is still virtually impossible to watch a football league game in the UK without seeing a gambling advert, with one Premier League game containing 700.
“It seems clear to us that our fans, the players and the public support our stance, with the only barrier apparently being the financial impact on clubs. This is why we are writing to you today – we want to challenge the notion that football is dependent on gambling advertising revenues.
!As clubs without these partnerships, we can say categorically that we obviously do not need them. We have managed to source other forms of sponsorship and have attracted partnerships because of our socially responsible stance on this issue.”
The EFL, which relies on a gambling partner in Sky Bet, and the Betting and Gaming Council have previously countered calls for an outright ban in sport.
A spokesman for the Betting and Gaming Council claimed that “during the pandemic, the regulated betting and gaming industry provided some of the country’s most popular sport with vital funding.” The English Football League received £40m, horseracing received £350m, and snooker, darts and rugby league received more than £12.5m, the council added.
“The Government has previously stated research did not establish a causal link between exposure to advertising and the development of problem gambling,” a spokesman said.
“Betting advertising and sponsorship must comply with strict guidelines and safer gambling messaging is regularly and prominently displayed. It should also be noted that betting operators’ logos cannot be used on children’s clothing – including replica football kits – while the whistle to whistle ban has reduced the number of TV betting commercials viewed by children during live sports before the watershed by 97 per cent.”