Betting scandal: how can the trend be halted?

BREAKING stories of Football figures in the game, whether it’d be players or chairmen, being investigated for breaking the authorities strict gambling rules is growing arms and legs.

This weeks revelations saw Annan Chairman Henry McClelland and Inverness midfielder Lewis Horner being investigated for a huge number of bets stretching back a few years, including several against their respective clubs.

In the wake of Joey Barton’s mammoth 18 month suspension, which effectively ends his career, and the sacking of Cowdenbeath defender Dean Brett, there is the prospect of more to come over the coming months.

The governing bodies in Scotland in particular are keen to punish footballers guilty of breaching their rules, which states that nobody in football can bet on any football match.

Two things spring to mind with their stance. Firstly, there are thousands of Football figures from footballers through coaches to boardroom, therefore tracking everyone down is going to take a significant period of time. Whilst their stance may be correct, they’ve put themselves in an almost impossible position in their quest to haul up everyone guilty of placing a huge number of bets, in McLelland’s case over 4000, over a fair number of years, in the same case back to 2011.

Secondly, and more importantly, how are the SFA and SPFL expecting to be taken seriously whilst the three major cup competitions are sponsored by gambling firms Ladbrokes, William Hill and Betfred?

Quite simply, it doesn’t send out a good message whatsoever by saying on one hand that they are going to clamp down on the gambling issues that are rife in the game whilst being bankrolled by three of the biggest bookmakers in the U.K. Yes, the argument is that there isn’t a lot of money in the Scottish game and any big sponsorship is well received. However, in snapping the bookies hands off for that cash, it contradicts everything that the governing bodies are saying.

What also doesn’t help right now is the insane amount of gambling adverts on TV. You can’t watch a game on Sky or BT these days without the vision of Ray Winston and the latest in-play odds, or Paddy Powers attempt at humour to sell their product to potential consumers. Add to that online advertising, and increasing betting firms logos plastered on the fronts of football shirts, the temptation to bet at the touch of a button is in your face.

Whilst the governing bodies, and other parties within the game, could do more to stop luring people into gambling, the buck, ultimately, stops with the individuals themselves. As harsh as the rules may seem, and it does come across as unfair that a Scottish Third Division player can’t bet on the El Classico match, the rules are clear that there is no betting allowed and too many have been lured into a deep hole that is difficult to get out of, one that can lead to addiction.

Those with an addiction do require help and bodies like the PFA Scotland should be there to offer help for those affected, along with their clubs. Gambling addiction is an illness and can cause major financial problems with people losing their homes, cars, jobs etc because they’ve wasted their money on betting in bookies, casinos etc, which can also lead to depression. Support groups for footballers affected should be in place, as well as more education into the betting rules to raise awareness.

However, no gambling addiction can ever be used as an excuse for a player betting against his own team! It can be argued that it doesn’t really matter if the player isn’t involved but, imagine you’re a player on that pitch and you then find out that one of your teammates has bet on you to lose, you’re going to be raging at the teammate for doing so. In the case of Horner, it’s all and well the club saying they’ll support him and most teammates might well rally round but all it takes is one or two not to trust him and he’ll find it very difficult to get that back. Cowdenbeath were ruthless in ditching a Dean Brett for his misdemeanours in betting against them in matches he was playing, which was the correct thing to do, whilst Rangers swept the Ian Black affair under the carpet.

Gambling, of course, is not just a sporting problem but a society issue and there are arguments that the Government should do more to raise awareness and stop the surge of advertising. It can be argued that gambling is a bigger risk than smoking yet the latter, rightly, has a complete advertising ban and has even got to the extremes now that cigarettes cannot be shown on display in shops. Perhaps a similar move on gambling advertising would help curb the in-your-face attitude that it’s become and be less of a lure for people to place their bets.

Who knows how many footballers, coaches, chairmen etc are going to be hauled up in front of the SFA over the next few months and how they are going to tackle the issue in the future. What is certain though is there is so much to done, such as amnesties and raising awareness, before Scottish Football can even begin cleaning up the gambling issues that are rife in our game and set a better example to young players breaking through before they get lured into a gambling addiction.

J Bleasdale

I am a football fan with a passion for writing, briefly studied journalism before other priorities got in the way. Enjoy blogging as its my way of expressing my thoughts on Scottish Football. Even though I'm an Aberdeen fan primarily, I'm happy to express my impartial views on other clubs.