Have the lines between football and betting become blurred?
Author: Josh Kay
After last month’s headlines surrounding Wayne Rooney’s transfer to Derby County and the alleged link with the club’s sponsor, 32 Red, an online casino, the issue of online betting and football is now back in the news after the FA’s sanction of Jordan Stevens, a 19 year-old currently playing for Leeds United.
The Independent Regulatory Commission of the FA (the Commission) held that Stevens’ conduct merited a fine of £1,200 and, more importantly, a total ban from all footballing activity for six weeks which prohibits Stevens from even interacting with the Leeds United coaching team. In breach of FA Rule E8(1)(a)(i), Stevens placed 59 bets on football matches between August 6, 2018 and May 27, 2019, 23 of which were bets on matches in competitions which Leeds United were a part of. However, it was the Commission’s view that five bets Stevens placed on matches involving Leeds United constituted the most serious offences.
In determining the level of sanction to be applied, the Commission considered the public perception of Stevens betting on a match in which his own team was involved, as well as a range of potentially mitigating factors:
- Stevens did not play in any of the five matches in which he placed bets on;
- The size and number of Stevens’ bets was relatively modest;
- Stevens’ age, his difficulties with boredom, homesickness and anxiety; and
- The absence of any previous betting misconduct.
The Commission concluded that Stevens’ admission of his own awareness of the FA betting rules, having attended an FA presentation on September 20, 2018, was of primary importance. In its decision, the Commission made it clear that, had Stevens stopped his activity after attending the FA presentation in September 2018, no sanction would have been applied. However, the Commission came to the conclusion that Stevens had placed a number of bets in full knowledge that he was in breach of the FA betting rules, including two of the five bets he placed on matches involving Leeds United.
In the top two divisions of English football, 27 of the 44 clubs have online gambling platforms as their official shirt sponsor. In the Premier League alone, all 20 clubs have official gambling partners who are represented in various ways to the clubs’ supporters. These statistics provide further evidence for Stevens’ assertion that his activity was heavily influenced by the significant presence of the gambling industry in football. The FA’s approach to players engaging in betting activity has been made clear but it is an issue that will continue to receive close scrutiny and media attention.