Rick Parry has drawn a new battle line between the EFL and Government – warning that a ban on gambling sponsorship deals would lead to further financial ruin for clubs.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden will launch the Government’s long-awaited review of the 2005 Gambling Act with a call for evidence later this month.
The review is likely to lead to new regulations for advertising in sport which could come into force as early as next year, with campaigners calling for a ban on betting firms being front-of-shirt sponsors.
EFL chief Rick Parry (right) has warned a ban on gambling sponsorship deals would kill clubs
That, though, would spell financial disaster for some cash-strapped EFL clubs who are already fighting for survival because of the Government’s block on fans attending matches.
‘The timing couldn’t be worse,’ said EFL chairman Parry in an exclusive interview. ‘The situation facing clubs at the moment is pretty dire. Obviously that is Covid related and it’s basically because the Government isn’t allowing us to earn any revenue from our principal sources – gate receipts.
‘But the last thing we need at the moment is restrictions on other valuable sources of income because they can’t be just switched overnight. The priority at the moment is making sure we have clubs surviving come Christmas. But this is definitely an important issue and one that we are paying close attention to.’
The gambling sector contributes more than £40million a season to the EFL and their 72 clubs
The gambling sector contributes more than £40million a season to the EFL – whose own competition is sponsored by online betting site Sky Bet – and their 72 clubs.
Speaking to Sportsmail, Carolyn Harris, Labour MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on gambling-related harm, pointed out that sports found new commercial partners after tobacco sponsorship was banned in the UK in 2003 despite similar warnings.
But Parry said: ‘It is a substantial amount of money involved and in the current climate it is not easy to simply pick up new sponsors. If not betting, which is the market we should go to? Other sectors are not showing that appetite to come in and sponsor teams at the moment. You can’t just turn the tap off and think they will be replaced overnight.’
Eight Premier League teams and half of the Championship’s 24 clubs have betting firms as their front-of-shirt sponsor.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden will head the Government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act
In July, a House of Lords select committee report recommended such deals for teams below the top flight be phased out by 2023. It also called for a ban on gambling advertising in or near stadiums.
‘Given the state of the economy at the moment, 2023 is just around the corner, so I’m not sure that would be an adequate timescale,’ said Parry. ‘Who knows how quickly we are going to come out of Covid and, when we do, who knows which industries are going to recover. Ironically, online betting is doing not too badly at the moment.’
Harris insists there is a ‘wealth of evidence’ that gambling advertising causes harm, particularly among children, who she says are growing up with a ‘sense of loyalty’ to betting firms because of their exposure to them.
Parry is yet to be convinced over the arguments against gambling advertising in football
MP’S BET WARNING
Carolyn Harris MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on gambling-related harm, said: ‘Gambling marketing and advertising in football is so prevalent now that it cannot be avoided by fans of any age.
‘While gambling companies say there is “no evidence” that gambling advertising causes harm, in fact there is a wealth of evidence that shows the impact of gambling advertising on everyone, in particular children and those who have suffered from gambling disorder.
‘The evidence also suggests that the sheer amount of gambling advertising creates a familiarity and acceptability that everyone else is gambling and gambling advertising has a cumulative effect over time.
‘We are living in very challenging times and the EFL along with other sports is fighting to meet its financial obligations but the risks of gambling advertising on vulnerable people must be urgently addressed.
‘We managed to end tobacco sponsorship and sports found sponsors elsewhere. The Government must work with the EFL to end gambling sponsorship in football and consider the merits of all funding options.’
Parry is yet to be convinced. The former Liverpool chief said: ‘Produce the evidence that actually shows that it is producing generations of problem gamblers because we haven’t seen that evidence.
‘Convince us of the merits of the argument on the basis of evidence, then we will engage in the debate because frankly we haven’t seen any. We will look forward to submitting evidence because this does need to be an evidence-based review rather than an emotional review.’
If a ban is introduced, Parry believes football must be compensated via a levy on betting firms’ profits in the same way as horse racing.
‘We would like the situation to remain as it is. I think it is dangerous to fiddle too much with the open market,’ he said.
‘If the Government are going to constrain us, then some alternative has to be considered. Given the billions that gambling companies make from sport, we make nothing other than through commercial arrangements.
‘If the Government are going to take the opportunity away to negotiate arms-length commercial arrangements, are they instead going to put some form of levy in place, whereby some other rewards from gambling comes back into sport?
‘If we didn’t have sports, we wouldn’t have betting, so there has to be some form of benefit coming back to sport.
Parry and Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive, face questions in Parliament next week over the delay to a bailout deal for the Football League.
With the Premier League’s latest offer to the EFL expected to be rejected, Julian Knight MP, chair of the DCMS committee, said: ‘Many of our football clubs are already facing a precarious future yet they are being put at further risk because the football authorities who should be showing real leadership have reached a place of stalemate.’
Premier League chief Richard Masters will face questions over the delay to an EFL bailout deal
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