Labour Party pledges to tackle ‘hidden epidemic’ of addiction and protect children from early exposure to gambling
Football clubs will be banned from signing shirt sponsorship deals with betting companies under a Labour government, as the party pledges to tackle a “hidden epidemic” of addiction and protect children from early exposure to gambling.
The policy, unveiled by deputy leader Tom Watson, is understood to be the first of a series of proposals to curb the power of gambling firms, ramping up pressure on the government ahead of its own review of the industry.
Watson, who is also the shadow minister for digital, culture media and sport, said a Labour government would encourage the Football Association to implement its own ban but was prepared to legislate if necessary.
“Football has to play its part in tackling Britain’s hidden epidemic of gambling addiction,” he said.
“Shirt sponsorship sends out a message that football clubs don’t take problem gambling among their own fans seriously enough. It puts gambling brands in front of fans of all ages, not just at matches but on broadcasts and highlights packages on both commercial television and the BBC.”
Nine of the 20 Premier League football clubs – including Newcastle, West Ham and Everton – have shirt sponsorship deals with gambling companies, worth a combined £47.3m this season alone.
A further 16 clubs in England’s second and third tiers have similar deals, in many cases with firms that do relatively little business in the UK but are using the global popularity of the Premier League to woo customers in Asia and elsewhere.
Football Association rules already prohibit youth teams from wearing clothing that displays products considered “detrimental to the welfare, health or general interests of young persons” – including gambling. Labour sources pointed out that the FA’s own logic should extend to the millions of children who watch football. Last month the FA announced it was ending its sponsorship deals with betting companies and terminated a contract with Ladbrokes worth about £4m a year.
Watson also drew a comparison with laws passed in 2005 to stop cigarette firms sponsoring sport.
“Just as tobacco companies were banned from sponsoring sporting events and putting their logos on branded goods because of the harm smoking can cause,” he said, “it’s right that we recognise the harm problem gambling does and take gambling logos off football shirts.”
Watson said figures from industry watchdog the Gambling Commission, which last month indicated a rise in the number of problem gamblers to 430,000, meant football should distance itself from the industry.
“With new evidence showing gambling addiction rising, at huge cost to individuals and their families, to society and to the taxpayer, the clubs should follow the FA’s lead,” he said.
Recent research by academics at Goldsmiths, University of London, found that gambling is now so inextricably linked to football that television watchers cannot avoid industry branding, even if they don’t watch commercial TV. In a study of three episodes of the BBC’s flagship football highlights programme Match of the Day, researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London found that gambling logos or branding appeared on screen for between 71% and 89% of the show’s running time.
Despite the fact that Sky broadcasts adverts, the research found that in some cases the percentage of screen time enjoyed by gambling firms during a live football broadcast was as low as 68%. This figure was for a game between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, with neither team sponsored by a betting firm. Another game, between West Ham and Liverpool, featured some form of gambling advert for 88% of the programme.
Professor Rebecca Cassidy said the similarity between Match of the Day and Sky was partly down to the fact that live games feature long periods of pre- and post-match analysis during which gambling logos do not appear.
By contrast, highlights shows tend to feature close-up shots showing advertising billboards in and shirts, while many post-match interviews are conducted in front of hoardings festooned with company logos.
“What surprised us when we looked at a small sample of live football matches and highlights was the sheer quantity and the fact that the BBC was not a ‘safe space’,” said Cassidy. “Gambling advertising has become part of the fabric of our stadiums and whether you’re watching highlights on the BBC or live matches on Sky you will be exposed to large amounts of it.”
She pointed to the harsher regime in Australia, where gambling adverts were recently banned during sports events shown before the watershed.
The DCMS is due to publish a report in early November detailing the government’s proposals on gambling advertising and controversial fixed-odds betting terminals.
Tracey Crouch, the minister for sport, is understood to be keen to implement tough measures on FOBTs in particular, but is facing opposition from the Treasury, which is mindful of the impact of any new restrictions on tax payments from gambling firms.
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