Towards the end of October Swansea City Football Club and gambling harm reduction charity project The Big Step rolled-out what was billed as a “trailblazing new partnership”.
As increasing pressure comes the way of gambling sponsorships within football, the link-up follows on from the club’s August decision to drop its gambling sponsorship from the front of their shirts, with Swansea University subsequently occupying the space.
“Swansea should be applauded for removing shirt front gambling sponsorship. They are one of a few clubs listening to the increasing public and political concern about the prevalence of gambling advertising in football,” said James Grimes, senior programme manager at Gambling with Lives and founder of The Big Step, and emphasised how important he believes it is that other clubs either follow suit or such partnerships are outlawed within football.
Grimes argues that gambling’s sponsorship of football has ‘completely normalised’ online gambling to a generation of young people: “Young people make up 25 per cent of the Premier League audience, and with only five of those clubs without an official gambling partner, children are being exposed to gambling advertising while watching their heroes.”
“We are at a pivotal time for gambling reform in the UK”
The Big Step is a football-focused gambling education project and part of the Gambling with Lives charity, which sees those with lived experience of gambling harm delivering a community-based education, training, awareness and signposting programme in conjunction with the Swans.
Grimes moved on to address specifics on the Swansea partnership, and looked at the key facets: “Building on our existing partnership with Tranmere Rovers, we are so proud to be in partnership with Swansea City. We will be delivering an evaluated gambling harms education pilot across the local community,” he says.
“The evidence-based programme will be developed and delivered by people with lived experience of gambling harm, specifically where the relationship between gambling and football has been damaging to the individual.
“To have the support of a club like Swansea is a huge boost for our advocacy and will help us reach many people as possible across the area.”
As previously touched upon, the role of gambling within football, particularly concerning front of shirt placements, has occupied an increasingly prominent role under the microscope.
With this in mind, Grimes examines what more he believes needs to be done throughout football to ensure those that need it get the help required, as well as what role it can, or does, play in combating gambling related harms: “Football doesn’t have to be a cause of gambling related harm, it can be a solution. Football clubs across the country do so much good for their communities but it has a blind spot when it comes to gambling.
“Football doesn’t have to be a cause of gambling-related harm, it can be a solution”
Grimes claims the ‘responsible gambling’ messaging from the industry has been proven to have little preventative impact and that football should look to adopt a public health approach to combat gambling harms.
“This would mean that their local community would receive education & awareness about the risks of addiction, the suicide risk, and the harmful nature of gambling products. Football clubs should also be promoting and signposting to independent addiction treatment, such as the NHS Northern Gambling Service.”
To conclude, Grimes took a closer look at The Big Step itself, and examined hopes and ambitions during the next 12 to 18 months: “We are at a pivotal time for gambling reform in the UK and we hope that our advocacy efforts influence the government to end all gambling advertising, sponsorship & promotion in football.”
Grimes believes that gambling should be equated with tobacco and subject to the same advertising restrictions, with the marketing regulations rolled back 20 years.
“We’re not anti-gambling and believe gambling has a place, but to protect children we should return to the time when gambling was tolerated but not promoted.
“It’s been overwhelming to see people with lived experience of gambling harm stand with us and we are busy planning future campaigning events to ensure their voices are heard. It’s imperative that the victims of light touch regulation are in the room during the imminent review of the Gambling Act and The Big Step will continue to amplify these people and their experiences.
“In the meantime, we will proudly continue to develop & deliver our education programmes at a handful of supportive football clubs and hopefully help to change the narrative around gambling in football.”