Ivan Toney’s case has brought up all of the necessary questions regarding gambling and sport. Do these considerations have to be made at the cost of the wellbeing of the players and the prevention of similar situations?
I have been thinking a great deal about Ivan Toney’s fate, the Premier League player recently suspended for gambling offences.
It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that he was not only treated badly, but also mistreated. Both the English Football Association (FA), and the betting industry, missed a huge opportunity.
Toney, a striking player who worked his way up through various divisions and ended up at Brentford is the main character in the story. Brentford is one of London’s smaller clubs but it punches way above its size.
It was a well-deserved call up to the England full squad. He’s been a great player for his club, offering a different perspective to what is usually selected.
Toney’s gambling ban halts his momentum
Toney was recently banned from football for eight months after the FA conducted an investigation. They found that he violated the betting rules of the FA 232 times over a four-year period, during which time he represented four clubs. After he revealed that he had a gambling problem, the ban was reduced to eight months.
This is a complex issue and brings gambling’s connection to the sport back in the spotlight (in a negative light). Brentford, afterall, is one of Premier League’s clubs that are sponsored by gambling firms. We’re telling the players that everyone else can place bets on the thing they can see on our shirts and all around the stadium, but not you.
Toney had bet on his own team on multiple occasions and on matches he played in, but these bets always won. What a great way to support yourself. As a professional sportsman, he should have known better. That’s an expensive mistake.
Digressing a bit.
Toney was diagnosed with gambling addiction, but if those numbers were only part of the story, then any operator that Toney bets at would not see evidence of an addiction. He has placed 232 bets over the past four years, which is 58 per year. This is not a sign of gambling disorder.
As far as I know, no further information has emerged about his disordered gambling patterns. A psychiatric expert from the FA has diagnosed him as an addict.
What can we learn about Toney from his case?
Cynics might speculate that he may have played a bit to get the suspension reduced. Let’s say he doesn’t play the game. Assume that this was a legal transaction and the gambling addict is a well-known figure. What could have been done better in this situation?
First of all, he should not be banned for several very good reasons. You can stop him playing but you cannot allow him to train at the club. This is a way to isolate the player, and can this be positive?
When is it good to remove him from his peer group? The club is still willing to help him, but their involvement will be restricted. The ban will end in September. He cannot even begin training until then.
The FA just announced in national media that this person is an addict who needs help. This would be four months of solitary confinement. As I type this he is injured. He needs to get rehab and then focus on hard work. He can’t even train. What’s the deal? This is a very close call to cruel and unusual punishment.
After the decision, Professional Footballers’ Association (the union of football players) said: “It’s important that players receive proper support in seeking help, and that punishments for betting in soccer take into account the well-being of players.”
Support? What is support?
What is the support for Ivan Toney here? This is a great opportunity to inform the group and show that anyone can be affected by this disease, that there are people who will help them. This can also be done for the whole family of fans around the club.
This is a huge miss and the player has been left largely adrift. If they are really serious in supporting him then they should educate him and educate him again, help him to treat the problem, provide support, get him involved, encourage him, etc. If it is a serious problem, treat it as such. Support, assist, and get him on board to educate kids, teens, other players.
You can go from 0 to 60 in as little time as possible. You don’t want to just leave him hanging when you can make him a living, breathing example of how other players or fans should behave.
Thomas Frank, the excellent Brentford manager, stated: “The relationship between football and gambling needs to be reviewed.” A massive reminder was given to us. Are we educating our players enough? It is the authorities’ job to ensure we are doing this better.
If I’m not allowed to speak with him, they might as well ban me too. “If I’m not allowed to speak with him, there is something wrong.”
An alternative way of tackling things
What have we as a sector missed? We have a great opportunity to review our procedures and information. But we need some more information. We have no choice but to accept being demonised again without the necessary information to help remedy the situation.
Toney who bet? Was it with one operator, or in lots? Did his betting pattern suggest that he might have a problem. He was ever asked to provide KYC information or evidence of his funds. The operator (or operators) knew he played football? Operators who took the bets should be punished. How can we prevent this from happening again? Why not prohibit athletes betting in their sport anywhere around the globe if they have to declare this when creating or maintaining a account or the operator must keep track of it?
The industry fixes are easy. But it requires transparency on both sides of the discussion. Or, rather, it involves having an actual conversation with the FA or PFA, to determine how such a situation can be prevented in the future, and the integrity of sport maintained. It’s best for everyone involved.
Sure, it has opened up a whole can of worms. But now is the time to get out our forks and put on some big boy pants. Nom, nom, nom.
Ivan Toney, by Ardfern. Distributed via CC BY SA 4.0
Jon Bruford is a gambling expert who has worked in the industry for more than 17 years. He was previously managing editor at Casino International, and is currently publishing director with Kate Chambers, and Greg Saint, of The Gaming Boardroom. His large dog has a sensitive stomach. He spends most of his time in the free-time learning how to remove stains.