UK MP backs 'obvious' proposal to ban betting sponsors from shirts
Banning English soccer clubs from shirt sponsorship deals with betting companies is “one of the most obvious things to do” within the UK’s new Gambling Act, according to MP Carolyn Harris.
UK ministers are to look into the 2005 Gambling Act, which lifted previously strict regulations on the industry and led to betting companies having an increased presence in soccer.
The review could lead to major restrictions on the activities of bookmakers in the sport, which could include a reduction in shirt sponsorships.
Harris, the chair of the gambling-related-harm all-party parliamentary group, is confident a new Gambling Act will ban shirt sponsorship deals with bookmakers in the English leagues when it is passed later this year or in early 2021.
At present, betting companies have such deals with 10 of the 20 Premier League clubs and 17 of the 24 sides in the second-tier EFL Championship.
A House of Lords select committee recommended such a ban earlier this month, but said it should not come into effect below Premier League level before 2023.
Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, is confident a ban will eventually come.
She told PA Media: “It is one of the most obvious things to do and all the groups who have reported or commented on this have said it is an area [ministers] need to tackle immediately. So I am quite confident that will happen.”
Harris believes betting sponsorships in soccer could have the biggest impact on young fans.
She argued: “It is subliminal, isn’t it? Even though you might have a whistle-to-whistle ban, you still get logos around the stadium, you see it on the shirts continually.
“It is the loyalty thing for kids that really worries me. Kids do see it as being loyal to their football club to use that bookmaker for gambling. Fifa 2020 (the video game) replicates [reality] entirely. If your team has a gambling logo, on the game it shows that gambling logo.
“From a very, very early age we have normalised the association between football and gambling. This is where we get this problem in later life. Young people grow up believing to become involved in gambling is completely normal without knowing anything about the consequences of when it crosses that line.”
After being named as the Premier League’s new chief executive earlier this year, Richard Masters vowed to protect clubs in the top flight, all of which have gambling partners.
He said the league will work closely with the government as it reviews the gambling legislation and acknowledged “this area does need stronger governance.”
In 2018, in response to increasing public and political concerns over the growth in betting advertising in live sports coverage, and in particular its contribution to problem gambling and impact on young people, it was agreed through the UK's Remote Gambling Association, which represents some of the country’s largest bookmakers, to restrict the level of activity.
Since August, under a 'whistle-to-whistle' ban, there has been no betting advertising from five minutes before an event starts to five minutes after it finishes, including at half-time in soccer matches, before the watershed of 9pm in the UK.
This applies to all televised sport except horse racing and greyhound racing, which are considered to be reliant on betting, and extends to reruns and highlights shows, plus streaming of televised events on computers and mobile devices.
The UK government could ultimately follow in the footsteps of its counterpart in Italy where all clubs in the domestic Serie A have been forced to abide by a new law banning the advertising of gambling companies from the start of this season.
Spain is set to adopt a similar law as the country’s coalition government is seeking to implement a blanket ban on betting advertising that would impact on clubs in LaLiga.
The left-wing government formed by the PSOE and Unidas Podemos parties at the start of this year has been planning a crackdown on the gambling industry and is hoping to pass a new law before the start of the 2020-21 season after presenting it to the European Commission in Brussels last week.