English football’s stakeholders have been accused of “having their cake and eating it” over the sport’s relationship with gambling companies, with Brentford striker Ivan Toney facing a lengthy ban after breaking the Football Association’s betting rules over a four-year period.
The 26-year-old is understood to have accepted a number of the 262 charges related to breaching FA gambling rules between 2017 and 2021, but is contesting others in what observers have described as a “complicated case”.
Toney answered the charges weeks ago and has been playing on while waiting for an FA disciplinary hearing. The player and his club will expect some sort of ban but no date for the hearing has yet been set – although the suggestion is that a resolution to the case is nearing.
However, James Grimes, the lead co-ordinator of The Big Step campaign which aims to end all gambling advertising and sponsorship in football, believes the punishment meted out to Toney is hypocritical given the prevalence of gambling companies within English football.
“I think it just says everything that you need to know about gambling and football in that it basically wants to have its cake and eat it,” Grimes told i. “It wants to rake in money to promote online casinos in front of millions of young fans whilst coming down hard on footballers who inevitably gamble.
“If you have footballers that are forced to endorse addictive products on their shirts, play in stadiums or compete for trophies that are named after gambling companies then inevitably footballers will gamble because they are human and that environment eventually impacts people.
“The football authorities have a duty of care for their players, they are not just a commercial outfit designed to make as much money as possible.”
Eight of this season’s 20 Premier League clubs have a gambling-related sponsor on the front of their kits, including Toney’s club Brentford, and others have betting company logos on their sleeves.
A series of delays to the government’s proposed white paper reforms for the gambling industry, which are set to include regulations on sports sponsorship, have allowed clubs to strike new deals with gambling companies in the interim.
Brentford have been sponsored by South Africa-based company Holywoodbets since the start of the 2021-22 season, while three other top-flight clubs – Bournemouth, Everton and Fulham – announced new shirt sponsorship deals last summer.
The English Football League, meanwhile, which encompasses the three divisions below the Premier League – the Championship, League One and League Two – has been title sponsored by Sky Bet since the 2013-14 campaign with the existing deal set to run until the end of 2023-24.
“There has to be rules on footballers gambling on football because of integrity reasons and I’m not saying that [Toney] should get off scot-free,” Grimes says.
“But there has to be some recognition that football itself is facilitating this happening. The reason this has happened is not an accident. It’s an inevitability that this will happen and continue to happen while the gambling industry has such a hold over football.”
Premier League clubs sponsored by betting companies
- Bournemouth – Dafabet
- Brentford – Holywoodbets
- Everton – Stake.com
- Fulham – W88
- Leeds – SBOTOP
- Newcastle – FUN88
- Southampton – Sportsbet.io
- West Ham – Betway
Toney has scored 14 league goals and earned an England call-up earlier this season and any ban would be a heavy blow for Brentford, who are on the longest unbeaten run in the division and have a shot of qualifying for European football next season.
There is a measure of uncertainty around what possible sanctions Toney could face with his case fairly unprecedented. Joey Barton was banned for 18 months, later reduced to 13 months on appeal, after admitting to placing 1,260 bets over a decade but Kieran Trippier was banned for just 10 weeks for giving out information about his transfer from Spurs to Atletico Madrid.
i understands there is a feeling among some Premier League clubs that the rules around players gambling jar with the game’s embrace of the industry and sends “mixed messages”.
The FA have a blanket ban on “anyone involved in football” – covering players, coaches and club staff – from gambling on any facet of the sport globally and passing on “inside information” via word of mouth, social media or email.
The draconian rules are partly because there’s a feeling that football is a small world and the circles players and club staff move in are small enough to find out information about any number of events that the public wouldn’t know about.
“It won’t be an isolated incident, it’s just someone that has got caught,” Grimes adds. “I have no doubt that there will be dozens if not hundreds of footballers who have struggled with gambling across the UK and football has a lot to answer for. The harm that is being caused along the way is inexcusable.”