A charity has called on professional footballers to take a stance against the gambling industry’s relationship with the game.
Newcastle midfielder Sandro Tonali and striker Nicolo Zaniolo, currently on loan at Aston Villa from Galatasaray, last week returned to their clubs from Italy’s training camp after it emerged they were under investigation by the Italian Prosecutor’s Office and Italian Football Federation (FIGC) in relation to illegal betting activity.
The pair are the latest in a series of players to find themselves the subject of allegations and The Big Step, a charity led by people harmed by gambling which is campaigning for an end to betting advertising and sponsorship in football, believes it is time for their team-mates to stand up and be counted.
A spokesperson told the PA news agency: “These moments can be seen as a tipping point and it does help show the ridiculous current situation of the relationship between gambling and football.
“But I think also it’s time for more and more footballers to take a stance against it because these are their colleagues, these are their peers, these are their friends that are being harmed.
“At what point will footballers say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to play with this gambling company on the front of my shirt, I’m not going to play in this stadium with thousands of adverts’.
“That’s what I think will really tip it next.”
Juventus midfielder Nicolo Fagioli was last week fined and given a seven-month ban with a further five months suspended by the FIGC for breaching betting rules, while England striker Ivan Toney was handed an eight-month suspension in May and Nottingham Forest defender Harry Toffolo a suspended five-month ban last month.
Tonali, a £55million summer signing from AC Milan, has reportedly admitted betting on his former club to win and his agent Giuseppe Riso has revealed the 23-year-old is battling “gambling addiction” at a time when Newcastle have three betting partners – FUN88, BetMGM and Sportsbet.io.
The Big Step spokesperson added: “If you watch their (Newcastle’s) match on Saturday, you’ll see a constant rotating presence of these companies whilst one of their own employees – one of their key employees, their players – is going to be sitting there watching it, possibly even playing, trying to recover from this thing that is being advertised to him relentlessly.”
While gambling addiction is an issue in wider society and other sports, the charity believes it is particularly prevalent in football and has called for Government intervention to address it.
The spokesperson said: “It is important to recognise that footballers, they have a lot of money, they have a lot of spare time and they’re in this environment where there is a gambling culture, and that’s not just through the advertising, but also just through the association between the two things, gambling and sport.
“That’s why there need to be extra safeguards for footballers compared with others. It’s time Government stepped up.
“How many more players, how many more fans have to be harmed before Government really takes control of this situation and just resets this relationship for good?”