Sunday, 6 January 2019

Gambling and Football: A problem that needs solving?

Anyone who is a dedicated viewer of live sports would be hard pressed to find a game that didn't include betting adverts before, during and after the match. For football in particular, the prevalence of gambling adverts is especially noticeable. I can just hear Ray Winston's voice now banging on about betting odds on behalf of Bet365. And he's not the only one. If I were to name every gambling company I've seen advertising the joys of betting on everything from goals to yellow cards and corners during a football match I'd be here all night. Seeing a gambling advert seems to be just as common as seeing the actual football itself!

Which isn't necessarily a problem for those people like myself who see it as just a minor  (if not irritating) inconvenience. But for the 430,000 people in the UK who are estimated to have a gambling problem and the two million people who are at risk of having a gambling problem according to Gambling Commission, the relationship between sports and gambling has been increasingly thrust into the spotlight in recent months.

Even more worryingly so, a recent report by the Gambling Commission entitled "Young People and Gambling" states that there has been an increase in the number of problem gamblers between the ages of 11-16 years old as compared to last year. The fact that many people in this demographic are attracted to football and the Premier League in particular, has made the sport a prime target for campaigners and politicians aimed at reducing such gambling statistics.

In recent months, gambling firms have come under intense public scrutiny and regulatory pressure by the government to do something to address the growing issue. Campaigners have long argued for a complete and total ban on the proliferation of gambling commercials, particularly during football matches. And it seems these hugely profitable gambling companies have finally bowed down to the pressure.

William Hill, Ladbrokes, Bet365 and other members of the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) have provisionally agreed a "whistle-to-whistle" TV sports advertising ban that will halt such commercials while games are in progress. The deal still requires ratification by the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling, but that will merely be a formality.

Whilst this voluntary agreement is a step in the right direction for ministers and public health experts, it has to be noted that there are a number of significant exceptions to the ban.

Firstly, the ban does not include horse racing. This is likely to upset some campaigners, but the sport completely relies on betting to be commercially viable, and it isn't as big a draw for the under 18s in the same way football is.

Secondly, though the agreement prevents gambling adverts during games, the deal does not include a ban on either short sponsorship nor digital advertising around the pitch. If the aim of a ban on in-game adverts in the first place was to reduce its exposure to young adults and problem-gamblers who may be more susceptible to them, then one has to question why it would be permitted in this way for 90 minutes in every game.  Surely the number of people who will see the shirts or pitch side billboards are arguably the same as or even less than those who will see the half-time adverts?

Lastly, the ban only applies to TV advertising, and it remains to be seen what effect this will have on the number of young gamblers considering most of them are increasingly consuming gambling adverts online.

Dr Heather Wardle of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine acknowledged this problem, admitting, "gambling is heavily advertised and marketed online, through social media and through sponsorship, where it is very difficult to control who receives these messages".

Additionally, Marc Etches, chief executive of GambleAware, pointed out that the gambling industry spends about five times as much on online advertising as it does on television. Children are growing up in a "different world" to their parents with technology always present, he said. "The fact that it is reported one in eight 11-16 year-olds are following gambling companies on social media is very concerning".

So what effect would this ban have on football in particular? It is true that gambling provides lucrative revenue streams for BT and Sky's coverage of the Premier League and European club tournaments, as well as international games. The industry's ads was also visible during coverage of the last World Cup on commercial TV.

So losing these revenue streams will hurt, but such is the worldwide popularity of football and the highly profitable broadcast rights of the Premier League in particular, that the ban is highly unlikely to be a killer blow.

Spare a thought for the nine of the twenty Premier League clubs who currently rely on betting companies for their shirt sponsorship however, as this ban should be viewed as a worrying sign of things to come.  In a climate of increased scrutiny, regulatory pressure and negative public opinion surrounding the role gambling companies play in society, it is vital that these clubs find another industry to help support their commercial objectives sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

So the World Cup has been officially over for a couple of weeks now (sad face), and huge congratulations to the winners France, who beat Croatia 4-2 in an epic final in Russia. 

It truly has been an amazing summer of football, and whilst I look eagerly ahead towards the new Premier League season starting in a few weeks time (c'mon Arsenal!), I thought I'd do a little round-up of my highlights from the World Cup. Enjoy!

1. Big Teams, Big Defeats

Germany exit at the group stage for the first time in 80 years.

The drama of big sporting nations underperforming began even before a ball was kicked at this tournament, with World Cup stalwarts like Italy and Holland failing to even qualify. More giants however were to fall once the tournament actually kicked off.

In a qualifying group that included Sweden, Mexico and South Korea, previous World Cup winners Germany managed to finish bottom, in an abysmal defence of their title. With only 1 win and 2 defeats in their opening 3 matches, Germany's exit was the first time since 1938 that they had failed to advance beyond the first stage of the tournament.

Spain, notorious for their fluid and fast paced 'tiki-taka' styled football, also failed to impress in the tournament. After drawing a thrilling opening match with Portugal 3-3, the 2010 World Cup winners limped past Iran 1-0 and drew their remaining match with Morocco, only just scraping into the last 16. Despite their underwhelming performances however, it was still a major shock when they were knocked out of the tournament, beaten on penalties by the host nation Russia. That's probably because prior to the tournament Spain were ranked the 10 best team in the world, with Russia down in 70th place.

2. The Introduction of VAR

The VAR Room at the World Cup 2018

There was so much back and forth before the tournament as to whether Video Assistant Referee ('VAR') would be a help or a hindrance to the game. Advocates for VAR argued it would increase accuracy in the game and reduce controversy, whilst opponents maintained it would disrupt the fluidity of the game and undermine the actual referee's autonomy. In the end, bar a few controversial instances, VAR was definitely a rounding success. 

Introduced to review decisions such as goals, penalties and direct red cards, what started off as an unwelcome intruder to the game at the beginning of the tournament certainly became a family member by the end. VAR quickly became second nature, if shouting fans and pleading players drawing rectangles in the air were anything to go by. It makes you wonder how an Earth we managed to live without it for so long.

3. Penalties, Penalties, Penalties

France winners of World Cup 2018

One of the most immediate and direct results of VAR was the huge number of penalties awarded. In total, 29 were given, with 22 successful and 7 missed. 11 penalties were the result of VAR reviews. 16 of the 32 teams benefitted from the increase in penalties by scoring at least 1 goal, whilst it provided for endless entertainment for millions of fans worldwide (including myself!)

So there we have it! As the curtain closes on another World Cup for 4 years, I recall many pre-tournament fears and worries by the media regarding the quality of the tournament and whether it would rise to the exceptional standard set by Rio in Brazil 4 years earlier. However, I have to say that for me, this has been one of the most enjoyable, thrilling, shocking and highly entertaining World Cups that I can remember. Every game provided talking-points, and there was rarely ever a dull game in site. Well done to Russia for hosting such a wonderful spectacle, and well done to France for winning their 2nd World Cup trophy.

On to Qatar in 2022!

Wednesday, 11 July 2018


So guys! I wasn't going to blog at all until after the World Cup had finished so I could do a sort of tournament round-up blog whilst congratulating the winner.

But! Seeing as England are sooo close to the final now I just couldn't resist! With France already having booked their place with a well-fought 1-0 victory over Belgium, the spotlight now turns to England to join them by beating a highly skilled Croatian side.

You'll hear from me again once the final is over. Till then, C'MON ENGLAND! IT'S COMING HOME!!!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Goodbye Premier League... HELLO WORLD CUP!

Welcome back everyone!

Yes I know, it's been a minute, but Ebony Loves Sports is BACK with regular blog posts and updates in the beautiful world of sports (and just in time for a certain mega football competition...).

Speaking of football, this past weekend was a big one for my favourite sport, as the curtain closed on the final games of the 2017-18 Premier League season. The domestic football calendar has now paused for a couple of months until its return in August, and for those of you who like high-drama (me!) on the last day of the season, this one was a slight disappointment. With Man City having been crowned run-away champions a month ago, and the three relegated clubs only sealing their long-awaited fate, all the last day drama was left up to Liverpool and Chelsea in the race to secure the fourth and final coveted Champions League place for next season. 

With Liverpool and Chelsea on 72 points and 70 points respectively going into their final games, Chelsea's bid for fourth place was essentially out of their hands. A win against opponents Newcastle, along with the hope that Liverpool lost to their opponents Brighton, was required in order to leap-frog them in the table. With Newcastle in 10th place and nothing to play for, a comfortable Chelsea win was widely expected. 

But ohhh how we were wrong!

One of the many things I love about the Premier League personally is its unpredictability. The sheer level of competition amongst all 20 teams, unrivalled in any other domestic league in my opinion, is what makes for outrageous results like the one we saw against Chelsea on Sunday. Losing 3-0 when they had so much to play for was an abysmal way to end their season, a season categorised by their failure to defend their Premier League title and one that will almost certainly see their manager Antonio Conte leaving the club. 

Aside from the race to fourth place and the otherwise muted end to the season however, the past 9 months of football will be remembered for a couple of reasons:

1. Man City Record Breakers

Man City Premier League Champions 2017-18

When the manager Pep Guardiola was appointed in 2016, many people were sceptical as to whether the Spaniard could replicate his overwhelming success at Barcelona at Bayern Munich with the Manchester club. After this formidable season, in which the team broke seven records, very few will still be doubting his credentials. Let's have a quick look at Man City's stats shall we?:

  • Most points achieved: 100 (previous record was 95 set by Chelsea in 2004-05)
  • Most wins: 32 (previous record was 30 set by Chelsea in 2016-17)
  • Most goals: 106 (previous record was 103 set by Chelsea in 2009-10)
  • Most away wins: 16 (previous record was 15 set by Chelsea in 2004-05)
  • Biggest positive goal difference: 79 (previous record was 71 set by Chelsea in 2009-10)
  • Biggest title-winning margin: 19 points (previous record was 18 set by Man United in 2009-10)
  • Least tine trailing: 153 minutes (previous record was 170 minutes set by Arsenal in 1998-99).

So yeah, they were pretty decent this year.

2. Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal

Arsene Wenger 

After 22 years at the helm, manager Arsene Wenger finally said goodbye to the club he has become so synonymous with, it almost bears his namesake. 

As an Arsenal supporter myself, I have to admit I leapt out a shout of praise when it was announced earlier last month that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. I have long been a frustrated member of the #WengerOut club, not because I don't like Wenger, but because towards the latter end of his tenure, his team increasingly became the epitome of complacency, stagnation and mediocrity. From having won the Premier League without losing a single game in 2003-04, to being content for yearssss with a 4th place finish, the club now find themselves languishing in 6th position without the prospect of Champions League football next year for the second season in a row. Whilst our rivals have consistently progressed, we have diligently regressed, all under the leadership of a man who was too stubborn and set in his ways to fix Arsenal's glaring squad deficiencies, thus enabling them to seriously challenge for the title once again. 

It was time for a change, and though the Arsenal faithful will always be grateful and have fond memories of what Wenger has achieved at the club over the past two decades, it is both refreshing and exciting to see the direction the new manager will take the club in. 

So as the door shuts on another eventful Premier League season, this is usually the time where I mourn an upcoming summer without any football to enjoy. 

Not this time though! As the World Cup in Russia is due to take place from 14th June - 15th July, I can eagerly look forward to a whole MONTH of pure joy and entertainment. With 64 matches, 32 national teams, non-stop coverage and endless punditry, all culminating in one grand-stand final, what's not to be excited about?

Ebony Loves Sports will be blogging about all of it of course, so make sure you watch this space!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Bye-Bye Bolt, Farewell Farah, Hello Future

As the World Athletics Championships came to an end in London on Sunday night, the curtain also closed on two of the most formidable careers in the history of athletics.

Sir Mo Farah

Sir Mo Farah, Britain’s most successful ever athlete, finished his glittering track career with a gold medal in the 10,000m and a silver in the 5,000m. It was the first time in six years Mo had been beaten in any of the two events in a World Champions or Olympic games. His utter distraught at the end of the 5,000m race was testament to his warrior character, and it took the efficient teamwork of his three Ethiopian competitors to finally ensure he did not win the gold medal this time around.

Despite that however, Mo has been the jewel in Britain’s crown over the past six years, making his dominance over brutal marathon running look very easy. Mo was consistent. Consistently good.

As he now turns his attention to road marathon running, Britain is left to wonder whether we will ever have someone else as great as him.

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet, has been an icon of the sport for the past decade, bursting onto the scene in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and subsequently breaking the 100m and 200m world records at the 2009 Berlin World Championships. A charismatic and loveable figure, he has transcended the world of sports and is one of only a handful of athletes that are instantly recognisable in other spheres outside of athletics. 

Aside from his athletic prowess and total domination of his disciplines, he has become a beacon of hope to a sport that has been ravaged by its problem with doping.

Athletics has long had a serious problem with drugs and has struggled in the past to adequately test athletes for banned substances. A staggering number of world records set in the 1980s, many of which remains unbroken till this day, along with the revelation of doping by stars such as Marion Jones and Dwain Chambers, have continued to cast a dark cloud over the sport.

The explosive discovery of Russia's state-sponsored doping program last year, which led to the expulsion of the entire Russian athletics team from the 2016 Rio Olympics and the London World Championships, brought athletics to an all-time low and threatened to completely undermine the sport's credibility.

However, Bolt's consistently superb performances in Rio, winning three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay, restored the public's hope and confidence in the sport. In some very dark days, he has been their ray of light.

So who replaces them?

It seems clear from the London Championships that there is a changing of the guard occurring, with many great young athletes rising to the surface. The sport is in transition mode, but as it says goodbye two of its veterans, it can also say hello to a number of exciting young talent.

Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar)

At the age of 26, Mutaz completely dominated the high jump this year, sailing over the bar without knocking it down once. The Qatari secured his first major gold medal without even breaking a sweat.

Dina Asher-Smith (Great Britain)

Dina broke her foot in March 2017 and was unable to train for 6 weeks. It was a huge doubt whether she would be able to even attend this year’s Championships, but she put on an impressive display to race in the women’s 200m, finishing in 4th place.

 Men’s 4 x 100m relay (Great Britain)

The most incredible performance of the Championships goes to the men’s 4 x 100m relay team, who stormed past favourites the USA and Jamaica to win GB’s first gold medal in this event. The team, made up of CJ Ujah, Adam Gemili, Danny Talbot and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, gave a masterclass in relay running, with oil-slick baton changes and powerhouse running. All of Britain was on their feet, and so was I!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

UEFA wants to end big club domination with new transfer system

UEFA's president Aleksander Ceferin recently announced proposed changes to the football transfer system to stop the wealthiest clubs in Europe's biggest leagues from 'hoarding' the best players. 

Policies including a 'luxury tax' on rich clubs and squad limits are aimed to increase the level of competition and prevent the best clubs from dominating the game.

At a conference in Lisbon, Ceferin said, 'UEFA has a duty to protect the whole of football and not just the elite. We need to assess whether the transfer market is the best we can do. We cannot be afraid to touch it. We do have to examine new mechanisms like luxury taxes and in particular sporting criteria like squad limitations and fair transfer rules, avoiding player hoarding'. 

Many people have long complained about the dominance of the top teams in some of Europe's main leagues, including in the Premier League (UK), La Liga (Spain), Ligue 1 (France) and the Bundesliga (Germany). In La Liga for example, 13 championship titles in the last 16 years have been won by either Real Madrid or Barcelona. In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich have won the title 10 times in the last 16 years and Paris Saint-Germain have won 4 Ligue 1 titles in the last 4 years. 

In addition, according to a BBC article, some of Europe's smaller leagues have complained about big teams signing up their best players at a young age, only to immediately send them on loan elsewhere. 

Chelsea for example, had more than 30 players out on loan earlier this season, whilst Italian champions Juventus currently have more than 50 players loaned out.

Ceferin is yet to give further details on what the luxury taxes or fair transfer rules could look like in practice, but I think any change to the status quo to help football become beneficial for everyone involved should always be welcomed. 

After all, the slogan for FIFA (world football's governing body) is, 'For the Game. For the World'. Not just the elite few.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Transfer Deadline Day Drama

Deadline day for football player transfers in the UK has come and gone, and as the fees made in the summer transfer window breaks the £1 billion barrier for the first time, I'll take a look at three of the most interesting transfers made between the months of May and August.

1. The Most Expensive

Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba: Juventus - Manchester United

The most expensive signing in history is awarded to Manchester United, who paid a world record £89m fee to re-sign the Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba. Pogba initially left Manchester United to join Juventus in 2012, but after impressing with the Italian side, winning various domestic titles and reaching the Champions League final in 2015, Man U couldn't resist the temptation to bring the talented player back to his old stomping ground, albeit at a much heftier price tag than what they sold him for.

2. The Sidelined

Manchester City's transfers

New manager Pep Guardiola has been very busy in the transfer market. Not only has he made a number of big money signings, but he has also not been afraid to get rid of a few players as well, though on loan. Once integral to the first team Man City squad, these players have now been deemed surplus to requirements under the former Barcelona boss. Here's a roundup of the most high-profile players who are in and who are out:

Samir Nasri - Sevilla (Spain)
Joe Hart - Torina (Italy)
Eliaquim Mangala - Valencia (Spain)
Wilfred Bony - Stoke

Claudio Bravo - Barcelona (Spain)
John Stones - Everton
Marlos Moreno - Atletico Nacional (Columbia)
Gabriel Jesus - Palmeiras (Brazil)

3. The Bizarre

David Luiz returns to Chelsea after a 2 year absence.

David Luiz: PSG - Chelsea

Most analysts and football commentators can agree that this was one of the weirdest signings of the summer. Having originally played for Chelsea, David Luiz was sold to PSG for a world-record £50 million transfer fee for a defender, amidst a wave of criticism over his defending ability and frequent desire to wander into an attacking role, leaving gaps in Chelsea's defence. Many were pleasantly surprised that Chelsea were able to sell him at such a premium rate, but are now even more shocked that the new Chelsea manager Antonia Conte has decided to bring him back to the club, considering he hasn't faired that much better at PSG. Maybe he knows something we don't...