Healthy Stadia welcomes call for urgent action to prevent gambling-related harm in sport

Healthy Stadia welcomes call for urgent action to prevent gambling-related harm in sport

House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee’s report recommends action on gambling shirt sponsorship and stadium advertising in sport to help tackle gambling-related harm.

Healthy Stadia and the Gambling Health Alliance (GHA), led by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), has welcomed the release of the House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee’s report today Gambling Harm – Time for Action.

The report comes amidst a backdrop of gambling-related harm being a serious public health challenge. It is estimated that there are 55,000 problem gamblers between the ages of 11 and 16 and on average a problem gambler takes their life every working day. This requires urgent and coordinated action from the Government, regulators, the gambling industry and sports organisations.

The Committee’s recommendations include prohibiting gambling operators from advertising on any part of sports team’s attire and in or near any sports stadiums or sports venues and prohibiting advertisements which are objectively seen as offering inducements to people to start or to continue gambling, or which create a sense of urgency about placing a bet.

The gamblification of football is far-reaching and as such, prohibiting gambling companies from sponsoring sports kits, acquiring stadium naming rights and advertising on static and LED perimeter boards would be welcomed and would begin to limit exposure to gambling advertising.

However, we do accept that given the extent to which gambling is embedded within the football industry, clubs, stadia and leagues will likely have to make significant changes to their financial models to ensure sustainability.

The Committee recognises that “the removal of sponsorship would not unduly harm Premier League clubs” but could have “a very serious effect on smaller clubs.” The financial pressures felt by the English Football League (EFL) and their constituent clubs, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, makes the regulation of gambling a particularly sensitive area.

In August 2019, Bury FC were expelled from the EFL due to “longstanding financial difficulties”, and just a day prior to the publication of the Committee’s report, Wigan Athletic FC entered administration. DCMS has warned that “10 to 15 clubs could find themselves in the same position”.

When submitting evidence to the committee, the EFL stressed the importance of their relationship with Sky Bet which, by end of contract, will have supported the EFL for a decade. In addition, more than 60 of the EFL’s 72 clubs have existing financial relationships with gambling operators (some of which include front of shirt sponsorship) and beyond that carry pitch-side advertising and in matchday programmes.

However, despite the precarious financial situation that many clubs find themselves in, the Committee recommends a period of three years for clubs below the Premier League to adapt to a new normal, without gambling sponsorship. During this period, existing contracts with gambling operators would be honoured but clubs would not be allowed to enter new sponsorship contracts with gambling companies.

There is precedent for an initiative such as this. In July 2019, all Italian sports leagues were instructed to abide by a ‘Dignity Decree’ prohibiting all gambling-related sponsorships and advertising partnerships.

However Italy’s top football league (Serie A) and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) have lobbied the Italian government amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to suspend the decree for 12 months in order to support clubs at risk of long-term financial difficulty.

We would argue strongly that the House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee’s recommendation on sport sponsorship should be introduced, and the government should resist calls to water-down or suspend these proposals in the Committee’s report.

It is likely that many individuals and communities will face severe financial hardship following the COVID-19 pandemic meaning many more people could be at greater risk of seductive gambling offers, including free or bonus bet promotions or cash back offers, which appear to allow individuals to try gambling without the risk of losing money. It is vital that these individuals are protected.

Whilst sponsorship and advertising of sport by gambling companies is in the spotlight, we would also support calls for a much broader debate on the long-term sustainability and financing of both professional and amateur sport, particularly in terms of distribution of broadcasting revenues, and the impact of other commercial determinants of health in sports sponsorship and advertising.

Dr Matthew Philpott, Executive Director of Healthy Stadia said:

“We welcome the Committee’s report and recommendations and are pleased to see that gambling sponsorship and advertising within sport is beginning to receive the necessary scrutiny.

“Since the liberalisation of gambling laws in 2005, promotion of betting within sport has fast become normalised and there is a strong evidence base demonstrating that gambling can become a serious disorder and can have a detrimental impact on individuals, families and communities.

“Prohibiting shirt sponsorship, stadium naming rights deals and perimeter advertising by gambling companies should be the first step toward reducing gambling-related harm associated with sport. However, there is still a great deal of work to be done to fully comprehend and regulate how gambling companies utilise digital media in terms of marketing and advertising to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults.”

To read the full House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee’s report, please click the link below: 

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Michael Viggars

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