Monday, May 20, 2024

Ivan Toney banned, but football has a harmful relationship with gambling

Morning all.

I did not watch last night’s Champions League semi-final, preferring instead to go out for dinner. Food is good. Watching Man City is not. They are boring to me. I know they’re a very accomplished team, but nothing they do feels anything other than football on steroids. The on-pitch equivalent of a strong man competition where these oiled up muscle machines preen and pose and you think ‘I didn’t even know there was a bit of the body that could do that’, but ultimately you’re left underwhelmed because for all their dedication to lifting weights they’re juiced up (and probably have a micro-mickey underneath those Speedos).

Just to be clear, if anyone thinks that’s sour grapes because they have overtaken us in the Premier League, I refute that. Of course I wanted us to beat them but this is a long-standing opinion. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I won’t watch the Champions League final. Sure, anything can happen in football, but I can’t see anything other than a comprehensive Man City win and I’m just not interested in experiencing that.

Up the Inter, or whatever they say in Italian, but it’s not gonna happen.

Elsewhere, Brentford striker Ivan Toney has been banned for 8 months with immediate effect for 232 contravening betting rules, demonstrating that in some cases at least, multiple charges can have dire consequences. The FA said:

Ivan Toney has been suspended from all football and football-related activity with immediate effect for eight months, which runs up to and including 16 January 2024, fined £50,000 and warned as to his future conduct for breaches of the FA’s Betting Rules.

He’s a player that many have spoken about in terms of a move to Arsenal as we seek to add something to our forward line next season, but being banned until January precludes that. It’s not the same as a player picking up an injury, and even if Brentford were to give potential buyers a knock-down price because of the ban (which I don’t think they will), it’d be very hard to justify that kind of expenditure on a player who can’t play for essentially half a season.

Toney’s ban is up there with the longest ever issued in the Premier League. Joey Barton was at Burnley when he was banned for 13 months, and then you have other cases like Mr Forgetful Rio Ferdinand who failed to turn up for a drugs test, and Eric Cantona who booted the Crystal Palace fan. So, clearly the FA consider Toney’s breaches quite serious.

Whatever he did though, surely it’s time to examine the relationship between football and gambling. For most people, it’s a harmless enough thing, a couple of quid here and there, but we know that for others it can become a genuine addiction. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case with Toney, but we know our former player Paul Merson has struggled over the years, to the detriment of his life, livelihood and mental health.

If Ivan Toney has developed an addiction to betting, the prevalence of it in the Premier League, and across football in general, surely played a part. Brentford’s shirt sponsor is ‘Hollywood Bets’. Which isn’t to make excuses for him, I’m sure he knew the rules, but it feels quite punitive when the reality is he probably requires help. Clubs and the leagues take the money offered by gambling companies, and then when the impact on a player manifests itself, the answer is to punish them rather than look at the root causes. I also think there’s something of a question mark over the timing of this ban, given there are still two games to go. In all likelihood it won’t have any significant impact on the remaining fixtures, but it could, so that feels a bit off.

Half-time spinning heads giving you the latest odds. Every single thing that happens in football turned into ‘hilarious’ memes with the betting company’s logo in the bottom corner. Shirt sponsors. Advertising hoardings rotating from one bookie to the next to the next. Bookies co-opting genuinely important social messaging to promote themselves. Even flagship TV shows promoting their super bet of the day via the betting company owned by the same broadcaster. There’s no escape. It’s so ingrained in the game, and so much part and parcel of what we see, I don’t think we even realise how pernicious it all is.

Beyond the day to day bookmaker stuff we all understand, those ‘harmless’ flutters on first goal, score predictions, accumulators and all the rest, there’s a more unpleasant side to all of this. Although betting is regulated in the UK, there are faceless entities in other countries using football to get around regulations elsewhere, and nobody quite knows where the money that is generated goes.

I highly recommend this Josimar article from our friend Philippe Auclair as a good place to start. The advent of crypto-currencies adds another layer to all of this too, and it’s high time that football reconsidered its relationship with betting. I hate when Arsenal tout their partnership with dodgybets.io, and if you’re on Twitter you’ll know that that the biggest spam accounts beyond pornography are related to gambling. Tipsters and touts, it’s all so grotty. When football clubs are literally profiting off the losses of their own fans, something is very wrong.

Full disclosure: For a time when we were rebuilding the site after the OleOle debacle, we did betting stuff on Arseblog, but I always felt uncomfortable about it and I’m not proud of it now. We have since implemented a strict no gambling policy, even in terms of #content that’s associated with betting companies, and regularly turn down significant sums of money to do it.

If you struggle with gambling, or feel like you’ve got a problem with it, please check out https://www.begambleaware.org/

Back tomorrow with more here, and a brand new Arsecast. Until then.

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