All bets aren’t off when it comes to football and its obsession with gambling | Soccer
Football has led the charge on the total intrusion of gambling into every aspect of our daily cultural lives
Children don’t like Peter Crouch. Young people do not find Peter Crouch a hopeful or aspirational figure. Peter Crouch’s career ended in underwhelming disappointment, largely because he played for Burnley and Stoke. Not my words. The words of Crouch’s employers, Flutter Entertainment plc, also known as Paddy Power.
It is now three months since Paddy Power offered its response to an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority into its Christmas TV ad, which featured Crouch doing things in a festive-type setting in order to encourage people to gamble more.
The ASA was investigating whether the advert breached new regulations relating to minors. Paddy Power’s defence basically boiled down to arguing in convincing detail that Crouch himself has, according to text quoted on The Drum website, “a low risk of strong appeal to children”.
Not only had Crouch’s time at Burnley and Stoke “further reduced the likelihood of his appeal to children”, the one-time goal-beanpole also has “a limited presence on social media” and is “not likely to be appealing to under-18s in any way”. Paddy Power did accept, grudgingly, that Crouch had appeared on the Masked Singer, but maintained that the act of watching the Masked Singer does not “denote a specific interest in Peter Crouch”, a point many of us have no doubt already argued long into the night.
At this point several urgent questions occur. Why is Paddy Power actually using Peter Crouch to advertise things in the first place? He sounds terrible. More to the point, does he feel OK about this detailed, meticulously sourced defence based on the idea that he is a deeply uninspiring figure to younger generations, thereby crushing what future hopes he might have of getting the Mattel gig?
Plus, is it actually true? Do children genuinely feel alienated by Peter Crouch? Paddy Power did concede that at that time he had almost 1.5 million Twitter followers, while pointing out 0.46% of those are aged 13-17. The real takeaway from this is 6,900 British children are out there following Peter Crouch on Twitter, something that seems far more worthy of a cross-agency government inquiry than spending their time inhaling helium on e-scooters while espousing non-binary gender semiotics, or whatever it says here in the paper.
Why is this happening? And why does it matter? It is worth joining the dots a little. The characterising of Crouch as a kind of child-catcher type, an anti-Wonka, is related to the same new rules that led to this week’s essentially self-serving decision by the Premier League to outlaw gambling adverts on the front of team shirts.
The new rules were introduced in October. They allow the Committee on Advertising Practice to prohibit any gambling advert that might appeal strongly to under-18s. Reality TV stars, current footballers and other youth culture types are effectively banned, which is great news for Jeff Stelling and the giant severed head of Ray Winstone, who now have an exclusive run at the WANGERBET465 dollar.
A government white paper is also due, with some talk already of a clampdown on football shirts. And in this light the league’s announcement should be taken with a pinch of salt. This was likely to be enforced in any case. How much smarter and more tactical to get ahead of it, to make a show of a grand, selfless gesture, while also retaining the adverts on sleeves and drawing attention away from the constant farrago of betting-related stuff plastered across every other surface.
In reality, gambling advertising has already hit an unprecedentedly violent pitch. Eight of 20 Premier League teams currently have gambling companies as main shirt sponsors, compared with zero in the Bundesliga, La Liga and France. Every week the Premier League’s players, these persuasive, handsome, aspirational athletes, are running around exhorting hundreds of millions of people to log on to some opaque, insatiable website in search of joy, pleasure, hope, happiness, a few digital quid.
This clearly offers up potential breaches all over the place. The new rules state that no gambling advert may exploit “the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience, or lack of knowledge of children or other vulnerable persons”. Hmm. Gambling regulations: meet football Twitter. Adverts must also not link gambling to “seduction, sexual success, or enhanced attractiveness”. No real need for comment here. Just six words: Luke Ayling in an SBOTOP shirt.
Most crucially, gambling ads must not “be of strong appeal to children or young persons”. The Premier League is openly geared towards youthful audiences. It is pretty obvious which way the wind is blowing here, to the extent even the self-imposed three-year window to phase it out seems pretty lenient.
Take a longer look and English football has zero locus standi to take any kind of moral high ground here. Football has led the charge on the total intrusion of gambling into every aspect of our daily cultural lives. The Gambling Act 2005 offered a pathway for this booming new industry. From that moment it has gone through the roof. The UK market has a gross gambling income of £7bn, miles ahead of anyone else in Europe.
It is of course true that most people can cope with gambling, can enjoy the thrill and the fun in moderation. But easy-access betting also comes complete with the full hand of associated harms. The NHS is making plans to cope with at least 55,000 UK children classed as having a problematic relationship with gambling, out of 400,000 people in total.
These numbers are truly shocking. Rather than the Premier League presenting its concession on main shirt sponsors as a grand benevolent gesture (which it isn’t) the entire industry should be offering profound apologies for the harm done, plus vastly increased financial reparations to help reverse this tide.
The Premier League certainly doesn’t get a tick for caving to a ban that was probably coming in any case. The coexistence and shared profiteering of these two industries has been normalised for far too long. By now we are all to some extent the children of Malta-Bet, ClickBroke, FUNMUG, BanterPunt and the rest of them. Although some of us do still quite like Peter Crouch.
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