Labour’s Tom Watson Plans to Sever Football’s Links to Gambling

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has taken a subtle swipe at the Conservative government with a proposal to ban gambling operators appearing on football shirts.

Labour Tom Watson gambling and football.

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson believes that football clubs shouldn’t have gambling firms printed their shirts. (Image: Twocoms/Shutterstock)

Speaking The Guardian newspaper, Watson announced that a Labour government would tackle what he believes to be the “hidden epidemic” of problem gambling in the UK.

Despite Labour losing the recent General Election, Jeremy Corbyn’s second in command has said that he would work to sever the links between football and betting.

“Shirt sponsorship sends out a message that football clubs don’t take problem gambling among their own fans seriously enough,” Watson told The Guardian.

FA Have Already Made a Move

If Labour were to gain power, the move would have some precedent to fall back on. Back in June 2017, the Football Association (FA) announced that it would be ending its deals with betting companies due to a conflict of interest.

Following a three-month review of its links with operators such as Ladbrokes, the governing body cut all advertising ties with the industry. One of the main reasons behind the decision was the fact that members of a professional football club, from the players to the backroom staff, aren’t allowed to bet on matches.

With this rule in place and with several players, including Joey Barton, receiving fines for betting on football, the FA decided it could no longer promote operators while enforcing a ban.

Despite this breakaway from gambling partnerships, the FA can’t control individual clubs have and that’s led to a wave of shirt sponsorship deals by the likes of bet365 and Unibet.

Announcement Puts Pressure on Government

However, while Watson’s proposal has generated headlines and given football clubs something to think about, its underlying purpose is to draw opposition to the government. Recent reports have suggested that Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has quashed a review into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

Although unconfirmed, an article by the Daily Mail back in August suggested that Hammond is unwilling to lower the maximum stake (from £100 to £2) because it would hurt the national coffers. The latest figures show that FOBTs generate around £400 million in tax revenue each year and it’s been suggested that Hammond doesn’t want to jeopardise this by publishing a long running review into the games.

Watson’s announcement appears to be a way of positioning Labour as opponents of the gambling industry and, in turn, pressuring the government to act on FOBTs.

While the relationship between football clubs and gambling operators is likely to remain unchanged for the foreseeable future, Watson’s announcement does add another voice to those opposed to the industry.

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