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Toney suspension emphasises the need for more education

EPIC Risk Management’s director of sports partnerships, Ben McGregor, reflects on the news that the Football Association has handed Brentford and England forward Ivan Toney an eight month ban and a £50,000 fine for breaches of its betting regulations.

Among the inevitable volume of debate that will follow Ivan Toney’s eight-month suspension from football, it’s important to prelude any discussion over the rights and wrongs of the situation by remembering that his wellbeing and the need for a strong support network around him right now are paramount.

Whatever your thoughts on the actions he took in the evident throws of gambling harm, he is now being made to pay a high price for 232 breaches of the FA’s betting rules, losing the lion’s share of a season for club and country when he’s at the peak of his athletic powers.

That’s on top of what he may well have lost financially from that series of bets – now exacerbated by a further £50,000 fine – and the undoubted curb on the number of England caps he has so far received.

So, with that in mind, there is very little to gain from dissecting his every move in public, but everything to gain from assessing what steps the game and its trusted partners can take to ensure that this isn’t a situation that is likely to be repeated on anything like this kind of scale.

The first priority, which we would always urge, is for clubs, leagues and governing bodies to place a strong emphasis on education around gambling-related harm, and make players know exactly who to turn to in troubled times.

Back in February, we launched our Gambling Harm Prevention in Sport Review white paper, informed by experts in and around professional sport from our Pro Sport Advisory Board. They have seen what effective preventative measures look like from their experience in elite sporting environments, and our very first (of ten) recommendations is for safer gambling to be embedded into the culture of every sports club. Gambling and sports will forever be intertwined, so a responsible approach to safeguard those who will always be close to – and often endorsing – the messaging promoting gambling around stadia, apparel or on social media is paramount.

This is relevant because research tells us time and again that athletes are four times more likely than the general population to experience gambling disorder. The reasons and theories for that are varied, including:

  • Their natural competitive spirit;
  • An innate sense of greater sporting knowledge;
  • Long periods of inactivity that need to be filled between competitionduring travel, or when injured (the latter has been known to trigger notable gambling harm among individuals trying to replace the exuberance of competitive action).

Those who are experiencing considerable losses – and therefore financial difficulties – as a result of gambling-related harm will often be more susceptible to integrity issues due to the implications of the debts that they accrue, and coupling that with other mental health concerns which regularly accompany gambling disorder, the likelihood that they will take more risks or make poor decisions is heightened.

Until the FA’s full statement is released, listing the reasons for Toney’s severity of suspension, speculation over the rights and wrongs of the verdict is unhelpful. What is needed now is a clear commitment from within the game to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

We use lived experience to greatest effect through our facilitators opening up to audiences in a relevant fashion about their experiences in the same (or a similar) profession, because the peer-to-peer way of talking makes their experience all the more relatable, as current players realise ‘that could be me if I don’t take action’. We would urge every elite sporting institution – not just in football – to engender this method of conversation throughout every level of their institution.

We work to a mantra of ‘taking harm out of gambling’ and the offer is there to provide any help to Ivan Toney and his support network at this challenging time, as well as being there ahead of time for others to minimise the risk of gambling harm.

Please click here to read the full Gambling Harm Prevention in Sport Review white paper.

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