The government must move forward with banning game sponsors on shirts, according to 20 EFL and non-league clubs who insist football can thrive without the cash pipeline.
A letter written to ministers is the latest move by campaigners raising awareness of the harms of betting who fear ministers will waver at sweeping reform ahead of a landmark white paper.
Boris Johnson’s proposals to shake up the industry are due 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 leaders Bolton Wanderers, Tranmere Rovers and Forest Green are among the signatories of the letter saying the game has a “moral duty” to cut ties with the game.
“As responsible owners, directors and leaders of our clubs, we have witnessed the harmful growth of sponsorship and advertising of gambling in football, including the negative impact on our fans,” the statement said. letter, coordinated by campaign group Gambling With Lives.
“That’s why we’ve supported The Big Step’s campaign to eliminate gambling advertising from football… A ban on gambling logos on shirts would be a significant acceptance of the harm done, but we encourage you to include all gambling, stadium advertising and competition sponsorship so that every young fan can attend any football match – home and away – without inducement to play .”
Downing Street is known to have considered a ban on sports betting sponsors for several years but, with concerns over the survival of sports such as horse racing, some sort of compromise seems likely.
Carolyn Harris, chair of the All-Party Group for Gambling Harm, and Lord Foster, chair of a peer-to-peer gambling reform group, last month outlined what they consider a “balanced approach”.
In a letter to the Culture Secretary, the two Westminster figures detail an ‘exception’ to spare horse and greyhound racing while hard curbs ensure no gambling advertising of any kind in other sports.
“There is an overwhelming consensus on the damage done”
At the start of the football season, Bolton took the rare step of cutting all ties with gaming companies. However, in the Premier League, nine of the top 20 clubs have gaming companies as their front shirt sponsor.
In the new letter, the signatories, which also include Chippenham Town, Dulwich Hamlet, Billericay Town and Lewes FC, write: “As the trusted centers of our community, we have a social and ethical responsibility to our young fans and a grassroots wider fan base to create the safest possible environment to watch their heroes, which is not compatible with something that causes over 400 suicides every year in England alone.
“There is an overwhelming consensus on the harm caused by gambling marketing, with the betting industry itself even proposing a voluntary whistle-blowing ban on television advertising during live matches. Unfortunately, measures such as these are relatively ineffective as it is still virtually impossible to watch a football league game in the UK without seeing a game advertisement, with a Premier League game containing 700.
“It seems clear to us that our supporters, players and public support our position, with the only obstacle apparently being the financial impact on clubs. That is why we are writing to you today – we want to challenge the idea that football is dependent on advertising revenue from gambling.
!As clubs without these partnerships, we can say categorically that we obviously don’t need them. We have been successful in finding other forms of sponsorship and attracting partnerships through 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 on the sport.
A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council claimed that “during the pandemic, the regulated betting and gaming industry has provided some of the country’s most popular sports with vital funding”. The English Football League received £40million, horse racing received £350million and billiards, darts and rugby league received over £12.5million, added the advice.
“The government has previously said research has not established a causal link between exposure to advertising and the development of problem gambling,” a spokesperson said.
“Advertising and sponsorship of betting must adhere to strict guidelines and safer gambling messages are regularly and prominently displayed. It should also be noted that betting operator logos cannot be used on children’s clothing – including replica football kits – while the whistle-blowing ban reduced the number of television betting adverts watched by children during live sports before the turnaround by 97 per cent.”