Leader comment: Football's unhealthy links with gambling

Former Rangers player Joey Barton is one of football's most controversial characters, twice being convicted of violence and serving time in prison.

Joey Barton's former team Rangers is sponsored by online casino 32Red. Picture: John Devlin

However, his 18-month ban by the Football Association (FA) for betting offences, which he says will end his playing career, is totally disproportionate.

It compares with just half that time off the pitch for Manchester Mark Bosnich of Chelsea after failing a drugs test in 2003.

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Maria Sharapova returned to the court yesterday following a 15-month tennis ban for failing a drugs test. Placing bets on football is nowhere near the same league.

Barton has served numerous FA bans, including for violence on the field. Other misdemeanours included being banished from Rangers’ training ground following an alleged altercation with a team-mate.

But despite being a self-confessed recovering betting addict, that problem has not been at the forefront of his run-ins with the FA and there must be a big question over such a hefty punishment.

Far be it from us to be Barton’s defenders. He is an expert at causing offence, and attracts trouble wherever he goes. But he doesn’t deserve this length of ban, especially because of the implications for a player of his age - 34.

There are also wider issues, both for players and the sport. For a start, why the need to ban footballers from gambling?

It is hard to see a conflict of interest unless they are betting on their own team to lose. Certainly, betting on your own team to win should present no dilemma.

The objective of every team is clearly to win a game. If the football authorities wanted to ban betting by players on games they were taking part in, that would be acceptable. Not betting on any other game at all is, like the punishment, excessive.

But there is a bigger problem with football and gambling - they have become intertwined in a way that is far from healthy.

Bookmakers sponsor the leagues and cups in Scotland, along with many clubs in the UK. Barton’s Burnley advertises betting firm Dafabet.

If the football authorities want to be high and mighty about players gambling, they must get their own affairs in order. But, they are in thrall to the betting companies, because of the sponsorship cash.

Instead, they should rethink the rules on players. Not allowing them to gamble can no longer be justified.