Risk assessment

The GAA must be praised for taking a stance over gambling, but there is far more work to be done

A betting shop in Castlewellan

The annual GAA congress passed a motion to ban betting companies from sponsoring any teams will be discussed. GAA may not be the biggest benefactor financially of advertising and sponsorship from betting companies, but its players are certainly among the highest who suffer from gambling addictions. This may not be seen as a huge loss for bookies but it does ask a very important question about society’s relationship with the industry.

There have been many high profile cases in the GAA of players’ gambling addictions. Take for example Oisin McConville. The former Armagh and Crossmaglen forward has talked openly about his battle with his gambling addiction. His story is a clear example to the GAA of why the sponsorship of betting companies should not be allowed.

After finally battling his addiction, going to Gamblers Anonymous and admitting his addiction to his family and friends, he was forced to wear his beloved Crossmaglen jersey, sponsored as it was by bookmakers Bar One Racing. McConville has openly said he never had any problems with wearing the jersey and knew many others within the club had much more control over the levels they betted, but it no doubt a contradicts the teachings of how to help a person with addiction.

A great example of how addiction is shaped is found in US soldiers’ behaviour during and after the Vietnam War. Although over 15% the soldiers had used heroin and became addicted during their service, almost 95% did not continue using on return to the US. Many leading psychologists believe this is because the environmental figures which triggered their addiction during the war were taken away. The current rate of gambling addiction among GAA players may not be on the same level as heroin addiction among US soldiers during the Vietnam war, but it is something we can look at. Players should not be forced to play a game they love whilst having to wear a jersey sponsored by an industry which has caused them so much pain in the past.

McConville spoke to the ‘Second Captains’ podcast earlier this week about his addiction problems and how he eventually conquered it. However, he did warn about many top level inter-county players coming to him for advice on how they can help themselves overcome their own addiction. Although McConville did not name any names, we do know of other stars who have come out publicly with their own addictions. Offaly star Niall McNamee admitted to being in 200,000 worth of debt due to his addiction. Former Tyrone star Cathal McCarron also admitted in his book to participating in pornographic videos in order to fund his addiction.

This is a real problem we have within the organisation. There are many other steps which need to be taken to properly curb this issue, but this vote can only be seen as one step in a positive direction for the GAA and players welfare. Irish society still has a long way to go however, and bookmakers are only a street corner away in any town around the country. The problem is certainly not going to go away after this ruling.

Players gambling is a problem which translates to all sports – Joey Barton has recently been on the record as saying 50% of football players would receive a similar ban to that which he did for gambling. He does not believe it is uncommon whatsoever in the football culture. Not only does this call into question whether or not many players also have gambling addictions, but also the credibility of the sport. A ban of sponsorship from betting companies, like the GAA plans to take, may be a good way for the FA to start.

The forgotten group amongst all these conversations, however, are the fans. Sports fans cannot escape the constant temptations to stick on a bet. Many of the broadcasters showing Premier League matches have live odds during the advertisements of the game being shown. Bookmakers also have a huge social media presence and therefore have been able to create a huge loyalty to their brand. Paddy Power’s infamous twitter account is mainly a comedic account that comments on every sporting moment during each day. Many sports fans began following the page due to the funny content relating to their sport of interest.

But this really is the genius underlying the Paddy Power marketing campaign. By making all of their posts interesting and funny to their followers, people take a huge interest in each and every one of their posts. Including their promotional posts on the current odds on various sports. This then gained many new customers who previously would not bet.

All these little things add up to start a gambling addiction. The bookmakers know all they have to do is entice you to make that first step. After that, many sports fans will repeat this process. It is a big part of their weekend and this is an additive which can make the games more exciting. There are many parameters which could be put in place to contain this problem and ensure it does not grow any further. However, if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put my money on these parameters being put in place anytime soon.