When the Football Association announced that Joey Barton was handed an 18-month ban for betting on football matches, almost nobody batted an eyelid. The ban could effectively end the troubled 34-year-old Englishman’s career and he himself has said that the lengthy ban could force him into retirement.
Of course, Barton has the right to appeal. Although he has accepted the ban, it is the period of the ban that is the bone of contention for the midfielder. He was also fined £30,000 after he had placed more than 1,200 bets on football matches over a 10-year period.
“Joey Barton has been suspended from football and all football activity for 18 months with immediate effect after he admitted an FA misconduct charge in relation to betting.
“It was alleged that between 26 March 2006 and 13 May 2016, he placed 1,260 bets on the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, football matches or competitions in breach of FA Rule E8.” – FA statement
Following the FA’s statement, Barton released one of his own that was published on his official website. In a long and detailed statement, he not only tried to defend himself for his reprehensible actions but he also accused the system of creating a hospitable environment for people with a gambling addiction to thrive that, in his case, saw him get into trouble with the authorities.
Firstly, it has to be noted that anyone involved in football is not allowed to bet on matches – be it players, managers, match officials or even club staff. The FA strictly implements this rule to preserve the integrity of not just the game but what the game brings to the table; namely a product that is consumed the world over and supports thousands of jobs.
The Premier League is the crowning achievement of English football and anything that can tarnish its reputation is swiftly dealt with. Fans sometimes pay three-figure sums to buy tickets and players fixing matches would see the Premier League’s reputation destroyed overnight.
Also read: Barton ban harsh, says Burnley boss Dyche
‘I rarely compete at anything without there being something at stake’
Let’s start with Barton’s excuse for the bets he placed over the last decade or so. The Burnley player claims his addiction to gambling stems from a longstanding culture of betting in his family while growing up – something that seems like second-nature and an unavoidable habit due to the circumstances in which he grew up.
“I am not alone in football in having a problem with gambling. I grew up in an environment where betting was and still is part of the culture. From as early as I can remember my family let me have my own pools coupon... I love winning. I am also addicted to that.”
That’s all well and good, Barton. Nobody is stopping you from placing bets on various sporting events – just as long as they are not on football matches!
You may not be alone in having this problem but you are a player in the country’s top division and should be setting an example by adhering to the rules that apply to all working professionals in the sport.
‘In every game I have played, I have given everything’
Barton then goes on to defend his own character even though he admits that he has issues that lead to people questioning his professionalism.
“First, in every game I have played, I have given everything. I’m confident that anyone who has ever seen me play, or played with or against me, will confirm that to be the case.
“I am more aware than anyone that I have character issues that I struggle with, and my addictive personality is one of them, but I am a devoted and dedicated professional who has always given my all on the pitch.”
The less said about Barton’s character and personality on the pitch, the better. This is a man who accuses players of disrespecting the game by diving and playacting to win fouls and then goes on to do the exact same thing later on. The hypocrisy is enough to make one’s eyes water.
Besides, how do you measure a player’s performance when he claims he has “given everything”? Personal opinions and facts are very easy to separate in football and Barton does not have a case there.
“On the few occasions where I placed a bet on my own team to lose, I was not involved in the match day squad for any of those games. I did not play. I was not even on the bench.
“My placing of the bet on my own team to lose was an expression of my anger and frustration at not being picked or being unable to play. I understand people will think that is childish and selfish and I cannot disagree with that.”
You do not need to be involved in the matchday squad to know that you have an upper hand when placing bets on your own team. For example; having trained with the squad, you already know how the team will be set up. You already know which players are 100% fit – or not. You are already in a better position than most to predict the result.
Betting on your team to lose as an “expression of his anger and frustration” is not only despicable but also ethically wrong. Why should a petulant player profit from his team’s loss while die-hard fans of the club pay to watch their team lose?
‘This is not an easy environment in which to try to stop gambling’
While Barton does fail to try to defend himself in a long, drawn-out statement, he does make one valid point that those in charge of delivering the product should look into.
“Surely they need to accept there is a huge clash between their rules and the culture that surrounds the modern game, where anyone who watches follows football on TV or in the stadia is bombarded by marketing, advertising and sponsorship by betting companies, and where much of the coverage now, on Sky for example, is intertwined with the broadcasters’ own gambling interests.”
Barton actually hits the nail on the head with this part of his statement. The root of the problem runs very deep and the FA itself should look inward and take a call on whether betting companies should be directly involved in the sport.
Betting companies have come a long way and the internet has widened their reach exponentially. It is no longer reserved for those in the same locality or country and people worldwide can bet on results. The Premier League has a global audience and betting companies have capitalised on its reach to make the product its goose that lays golden eggs.
Sponsorship by betting companies in sport may be legal but the idea itself flirts with the line of demarcation that separates integrity and dishonesty. A closer look at the number of betting companies sponsoring football clubs in one way or another paints a dirty picture that is too big to ignore.
Half the Premier League clubs have a betting company as a sponsor in some form or the other. Sunderland and Burnley (both Dafabet), West Ham (Betway), Crystal Palace and Bournemouth (both Mansion), Swansea City (BetEast), Stoke City (Bet365), Hull (SportPesa), West Brom (UK-K8) and Watford (138.com) are all guilty of using football to promote betting with the total value of the deals amounting to more than £35m (data courtesy of Sporting Intelligence).
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger reasoned that it was impossible to be surprised when people place bets. “Out of a hundred people, five of them get addicted and bet, so if you don’t want to have that problem you forbid betting.” It is a radical opinion that most of the society will definitely not subscribe to.
Barton deserves censure for breaking the rules and it could very well end his career. But he is merely a pawn in a much wider issue that needs to be tackled.