Is sponsorship of major sporting teams and events “normalising” gambling?

That is the suggestion behind research carried out at the University of Glasgow which concluded football’s governing bodies should urgently revisit the relationship between the sport and the gambling industry.

It isn’t just football. This year’s Australian Open tennis tournament will be the last before new restrictions are introduced. The Australian Government acted after Unicef described rates of teenage gambling across Australia as “deeply concerning” and blamed blanket sports betting advertising.

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Here in the UK, a survey last year found more 18-24 year olds gamble on football than play it. The UK’s Gambling Commission points to a 40 per cent rise in three years in the number of problem gamblers. This figure has almost doubled among 16-24 year olds.

This phenomenon is new. The proliferation of betting advertising in the English and Scottish leagues since laws were relaxed in 2005 has been extraordinary. While intended to equip the rules for a new era of mobile-based gambling it is hard to imagine the consequences are what the UK Government intended.

Why would a company pay from £1 million to upwards of £10 million to put its name on a Premiership team’s shirt? Luring in younger gamers seems one plausible explanation. It is true that some of the gambling firms advertising, particularly in the English Premier League, have small customer bases in the UK. And it is true that clubs are banned from putting the logos of companies such as betting firms on shirts to be sold to children.

But this is a fig leaf. All fans of whatever age, are exposed all the time to gambling brands and commercials. The gambling companies sponsor clubs, cup competitions all four senior leagues and two cups in Scotland.

But fans don’t need to attend the match. Ad breaks in live televised games and highlights packages are a deluge of exhortations to have a flutter. Viewers are encouraged to bet before, after and during a match.

And not only on commercial television. A survey of the BBC’s Match of the Day found that, on average, gambling branding was visible on screen for 71% to 89% of the time the programme was on air.

It is completely disingenuous to claim this doesn’t have an effect on young people, and more naive still to suggest that this is not part of the purpose of such sponsorship.

Noone is forced to gamble, and adults who choose to spend their money this way should be allowed to. But we do need to consider – as the Glasgow researchers suggest – what kind of a society we want? Do we really want the normalisation and acceptability of an industry which causes misery to around 450,000 problem gamblers across the UK, and others around them?

There are those within football who are asking this question. In 2016 the Football Association terminated its £4million deal with a major gambling firm.

Some players have spoken out. Former Rangers midfielder Ian Black has called on Scotland’s football authorities to shun the gambling firms, and whatever you think of Joey Barton, another former Ranger, he was surely right about his own ban for gambling. “If the FA is truly serious about tackling the culture of gambling in football, it needs to look at its own dependence on the gambling companies,” he said.

The Labour Party has proposed a ban on gambling adverts before the watershed and on gambling logos on shirts. However individual clubs continue to help sell their fans to the companies. And the Scottish FA describes the sport’s relationship with a number of betting companies as “productive and responsible.”

That seems unproven at best. Gambling sponsorship plainly benefits administrators and clubs financially, but it is time to ask - is the price too high?