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New football integrity breach highlights the need for a holistic approach

As a member of Burnley FC’s back-room team receives an FA ban for breaches of betting regulations, our senior sports partnership manager Michelle Evans looks at why it remains imperative for professional sports clubs to take an integrated approach to preventing gambling-related harm.

Every time news breaks of a betting integrity breach in professional sport, it’s hard not to think about the ‘what ifs’ or ‘what might have beens’ and how something so seemingly avoidable could have been prevented.

Of course, every case has its own reasons, and we’re not privileged with the information as to why Burnley’s lead first team performance analyst Richard Bredice chose to place hundreds of bets on games that often featured the team he was employed by at the time – a definite red line in sporting integrity terms and one that has cost him a £4,500 fine and 12-month ban from all football activity.

However, we aspire to live in a world where such cases are a thing of the past, so we are always thinking of the ways that we can better support clubs, leagues, player unions and governing bodies to try and help everyone in professional sport to make the connection between their actions and the potential consequences when they fuse their chosen sport with any form of betting.

Before taking on a full-time role with EPIC, I was a member of our Pro Sport Advisory Board (PSAB), drawing on the experience I gained by working with players and staff through roles with the likes of PFA Scotland, Partick Thistle and St Mirren.

Working across both player welfare and communications roles, I was in daily contact with professional players and staff, meaning that I had plenty of experience of the various welfare and wellbeing challenges that affect that group of people, in what is a perennially ‘at-risk’ sector for problem gambling issues.

This meant that when the PSAB was preparing its inaugural white paper into gambling harm minimisation around 18 months ago, there was plenty of relevant experience to call upon when presenting recommendations to other sporting bodies on how to prevent such harm from occurring within their ranks.

As a collective, we were pretty consistent in the approach that needs to be taken, and some of the key themes and messages that we came back with included:

  1. – Safer gambling needs to be part of the embedded culture of every sports club, not just a box-ticking annual exercise, meaning that senior leaders of sports organisations – including the sports executives and owners – should be involved in the education, in order to imbue that commitment to developing a safer gambling culture. There is a need for constant interaction from the youngest groups upwards, and with all playing and staff members.
  2. – Clubs should encourage people to speak up and talk about gambling, helping them understand how addiction can come in all forms.
  3. – There is a need for face-to-face education with lived experience at the core of the message – tailored to suit the audience and sport to ensure maximum impact.

The measures above have been shown to be effective across the various sporting organisations represented via the PSAB and are supported by some of the most high-profile institutions across professional sport and associated partners like integrity monitoring organisations and gambling operators.

This most recent instance of how the relationship between football and gambling can go wrong is a prime example as to why the education and culture around gambling within clubs needs to be one that covers all members of the club, regardless of their on or off-field role. Like their global counterparts, the Football Association has a blanket ban on football betting – anywhere in the world, and at any level – for anyone contracted to a club. It is clearly communicated and a simple rule, that ensures that with sporting integrity in mind, there are no grey areas or misunderstandings.

When transgressions against these rules occur, there will always be a mitigating reason as to why the allure of placing a particular bet – or more likely string of bets – was too great to resist. What’s often missing is a living example of what happens when you do take that chance… someone standing in front of you saying ‘this is what happened to me’ in order to provide a sobering reminder of the consequences of ignoring the warnings.

The statistical evidence to validate our lived experience approach is there; we consistently see a huge rise in awareness levels of the consequences of gambling-related harm in comparative pre and post session surveys with players and staff in professional sport.

Bans of the nature of the one that we have seen in the past week remain mercifully rare in the British game, but it further outlines why those of us with the power to engage with clubs and alert them to the potential outcomes should continue to do so, and hope that clubs will continue to welcome us and allow engagement with the widest possible array of staff, every time we set foot inside a stadium or training ground.

Michelle Evans
Senior Sports Partnership Manager

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