The preliminary results of the independent research the PPF commissioned into gambling behaviour amongst professional footballers and cricketers are a wakeup call for sport to take this issue seriously.
The headline finding was that professional sportsmen were three times more likely to be classified as problem gamblers than the wider population of young men. The figures showed just over 6% of sportsmen had gambling problems compared to 1.9% for young men. The figures on people displaying “moderate risk gambling” behaviour were 14% for sportsmen compared to 4% of young men.
These findings are significant because for the first time it provides evidence that professional sportsmen should be recognised as an “at risk group” for problem gambling. And once a group of employees is recognised as being at risk of a particular problem then employers start to owe a greater duty of care.
As everyone who watches professional sport will be aware the commercial relationships between betting companies and sport are significant. Betting is promoted through sponsorship of shirts, clubs and even competitions. Betting is promoted through touch line advertising and many clubs now have official betting partners with a presence on official websites. This promotion of betting by sport adds an interesting dimension to the duty of care that sport owes its players.
The research was not able to give us a definitive answer as to why the problem gambling rates for sportsmen were higher than normal. Though it is significant that a quarter of players said they were encouraged to gamble by their team mates and 10% saying that they gambled to “fit in”. Interestingly 27% of players felt that sports sponsorship by betting companies had an impact upon problem gambling amongst players – though the converse is also true in that many players did not think this was an issue.
Whilst it may be tempting to dismiss problem gambling as something that affects only footballers with too much money and free time, I think this would be a mistake. The research covered 178 cricketers compared to 170 footballers. It is also particularly relevant that problem gambling rates were found to be highest for sportsmen on lower incomes. This is as true for sport as it is for the wider population.
One of themes coming out of our conference on 3 December was the stigma attached to pathological gambling exacerbates the problems that individuals face. This lack of sympathy and understanding encourages players to hide their addictions and delay seeking help which can lead to catastrophic outcomes.
There can be no doubt that gambling addiction is a mental health issue which will benefit from greater understanding and support. Sport is starting to realise the benefits of supporting its athletes mental wellbeing and this research is perhaps a timely reminder that gambling addiction is one of the issues that responsible sports should be thinking about.
The consequences of problem gambling for the individuals concerned and their families are immense and even their employers suffer as well. I would strongly encourage everyone involved in sport to look out for the BBC Radio 5 Live special with the excellent Eleanor Oldroyd which was recorded at our conference. This is due to be aired in early January 2015 and brings to life this issues in this article.
General Secretary, PPF