Newcastle midfielder Sandro Tonali deserves “empathy and support” for his gambling issues rather than a 10-month ban, campaigners have said.
The 23-year-old has been suspended for 18 months – eight months of which has been commuted – fined 20,000 euros and been ordered to partake in an eight-month course of therapy after an investigation into illegal betting conducted by the Italian Prosecutor’s Officer and the Italian football federation (FIGC).
The player’s agent, Giuseppe Riso, has said his client is living with a gambling addiction while the PFA is understood to be working with and continuing to support Tonali.
And the Big Step campaign, part of the Gambling With Lives charity, claims asking a footballer who is addicted to gambling to play in stadiums plastered in betting logos is akin to making an alcoholic work in a pub.
“Footballers are human and if they are suffering from addiction they deserve empathy and support, not lengthy bans,” the Big Step said in a statement issued to the PA news agency.
“Every football game is wall-to-wall with gambling ads, not just across shirts but around stadiums and related media content.
“Sending someone addicted to gambling into this environment is like sending an alcoholic to work in a pub. If you force young footballers to endorse addictive products then don’t be surprised if they use them.
“Ending all gambling advertising and sponsorship in football, including all parts of the shirt and in every stadium, will help to prevent harm to those on and off the pitch.”
The FIGC confirmed Tonali’s ban on Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after he made what will be his final appearance of the campaign for the club which paid AC Milan £55million for his services this summer.
He came on as a substitute in Wednesday night’s 1-0 Champions League defeat by Borussia Dortmund at St James’ Park.
A statement on the federation’s official website said: “The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has reached an agreement (pursuant to art. 126 CGS) with the footballer Sandro Tonali, following which he will be sanctioned with an 18-month disqualification, eight of which will be commuted to alternative prescriptions, and a fine of 20,000 euros, for the violation of art.24 of the CGS which prohibits the possibility of placing bets on football events organised by FIGC, UEFA and FIFA.
“Regarding alternative prescriptions, Tonali will have to participate in a therapeutic plan lasting a minimum of eight months and in a cycle of at least 16 public meetings, to be held in Italy, over a period of eight months, at amateur sports associations, federal territorial centres, for recovery from gambling addiction, and in any case according to the indications and program proposed by the FIGC.
“The Federal Prosecutor’s Office will ensure compliance with what is indicated and, in case of violations, will adopt the measures within its competence, pursuant to the CGS, with termination of the agreement and continuation of the disciplinary proceedings before the sports justice adjudicating bodies.”
The PA news agency understands FIFA has not yet received a request from the FIGC to extend Tonali’s ban worldwide.
Earlier FIGC president Gabriele Gravina had told reporters in Rome: “The rules call for a certain number of years of suspension, but the plea bargain and extenuating circumstances have been taken into consideration and the players’ collaboration went above and beyond, therefore we must continue to respect the rules we have established for ourselves.”
Tonali was one of several players named in the FIGC’s investigation, which also saw Juventus midfielder Nicolo Fagioli banned for seven months.
The suspension will mean he will not play again for Newcastle this season and will miss Italy’s Euro 2024 finals campaign should they qualify.
Magpies boss Eddie Howe has promised his big money summer acquisition the club’s full support, although his absence could hardly have come at a worse time for the club with Alexander Isak and Jacob Murphy both having picked up injuries during the defeat to Dortmund, which Sven Botman and Elliot Anderson missed with existing problems.