The president of the English Football League (EFL), Rick Parry, defends sponsorship in football through responsible betting.
He assumes that there are no “magic answers” to eradicate addiction problems among gamers.
The sport’s relationship with the game has returned to the spotlight recently after the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) imposed a ten-month ban on Newcastle United midfielder Sandro Tonali late last month.
The player, who according to his agent is addicted to gambling, is also being investigated for possible violations of betting rules in England by the Football Association (FA).
Ricky Parry says football betting sponsorships welcome
The Big Step campaign, part of the Gambling with Lives charity, said the player deserved “empathy and support” rather than a heavy sanction.
He added: “Sending someone addicted to gaming into this environment is like sending an alcoholic to work in a pub. If you force young football players to endorse addictive products, don’t be surprised if they use them.”
Parry, whose organization has signed a new deal with Sky Bet as a sponsor until 2029, told the press that betting companies have made “billions” of pounds from sport since the introduction of the Gambling Act in 2005.
He added: “It’s only right that there is a way to channel some of that revenue into sport.”
Better to invest in education than punishment for addiction
And further: “So allowing sport to negotiate marketing deals to get a share of the billions that are flowing in is something I have no difficulty with as a concept.”
“We have commissioned research, we have looked extensively and we have seen no evidence that sponsorship leads to an increase in gambling or harm caused by gambling,” he said.
“Gambling values in England have remained fairly stable over the decades and there is no direct correlation between sponsorship and gambling harms.”
“Nobody wants to harm the game, nobody wants players to become addicted, or even non-gamers,” he said.
And he said: “But they are two different issues that tend to get confused in terms of what we are doing with players and, indeed, with non-players.”
The partnership between the EFL – English second division – and Sky Bet was praised during the UK government’s gambling reform, published in April, as an example of the type of socially responsible agreement for which sports should strive.
Since 2018, Sky Bet funding has supported the EPIC Risk Awareness program. The program provided education to players and staff from all 72 EFL clubs.
Likewise, it reached 2,200 players and employees in the last two years.
Parry strongly defends betting sponsorship
Sky Bet‘s parent company, Flutter, will also invest $24.7 million in wider research, education and treatment this year alone.
“Behaving responsibly is extremely important. Educating players is something we have been doing for at least the last five years and will continue to do more,” said Parry.
“That, frankly, will never stop people from wanting to play. Ten percent of people play – always will. It’s a fact of life, prohibition doesn’t work, so what you have to do is have a structure.”
More education and less punishment
“You have to educate them, make them behave responsibly. Do everything you can to minimize the damage, but eliminating it is incredibly difficult. If we didn’t have Sky Bet’s sponsorship, we would still have players betting – they always have, they always will.
Consequently, “our responsibility is to try to make sure we support and educate – it’s not just about punishment,” Parry clarified.
“So as we saw in Italy, it’s not just about identifying the punishment, it’s about identifying that some of the players have addiction issues.”
Therefore, he says it is a problem that will continue.
“We have to try to confront it and face it, without in any way pretending that it doesn’t exist. This should not prevent us from entering into responsible and sensible marketing arrangements,” he added
On the other hand, Sky Bet will also commit £1 million per year to the Building Foundations Fund. The foundation will support community organizations linked to EFL clubs.
This week is designated as ‘EFL Action Week‘. Its aim is to highlight the social benefits provided by community club organizations in the towns and cities they serve.