By Andrew Warshaw
January 26 – A part-time English team is going where bigger clubs fear to tread by taking a stand against betting sponsorship, partly because of the scourge of match-fixing pervading the sport.
Enfield Town of the seventh-tier Isthmian League, otherwise known as the Bostik League, are refusing to take any prize money from the online firm betting.net, who sponsor the league’s Performance of the Month Awards and the end of season Fair Play Awards.
Enfield Town are the first fully supporter-owned club in English football with all members holding a £1 share. At last week’s agm, a motion was overwhelmingly passed by the club, which has average home crowds of 400-plus, “not to accept any prize money” from betting.net and that “any money the club receives from the league’s arrangement with betting.net is donated to charities tackling gambling addiction.”
The club, which has informed the relevant authorities, believe accepting sponsorship from betting companies is incompatible with taking a strong stance against match fixing and gambling addiction.
In notifying the Isthmian League, which will discuss Enfield’s position at an imminent board meeting, the club stated: “We would hope that the League will review its decision to accept sponsorship from betting companies at the next appropriate time.”
Invariably, it is the relatively anonymous lower leagues in European and world football, where players do not earn as much money and where rigged games are harder to identify, that are targeted by matchfixing syndicates.
Enfield board member Dave Bryant, who drew up the motion, told Insideworldfootball: “This is not a criticism of betting.net per se. I have no reason to believe they have done anything wrong but the stance the football authorities quite rightly take to vigorously oppose match-fixing is not compatible with at the same time being associated with a gambling organization.”
Many clubs, English or otherwise, are directly sponsored by betting companies but Bryant said his club will never go down that road. “We are a community club that seeks to do the right thing. I can’t speak for other clubs but this is incompatible with our ethos. Hopefully in the future, when we talk to potential advertisers and sponsors they will say we are a club that seriously considers who it gets involved with.”
Like many teams of their stature, Enfield have a tight budget and need all the funds they can get but Bryant added: “This an entirely ethical move and is a question of judgement. It’s not only about match-fixing. It’s also about gambling addiction which causes untold suffering to tens of thousands of individuals and their families. That concerns me greatly. The level of advertising from betting organisations in football has become totally over the top. “
Bryant’s club has first-hand experience of the pitfalls of gambling addiction.
“In the past we had an individual at our club who ran up gambling debts the size of a modest mortgage. It caused him and his family loads of grief,” he said.
“It’s important the league knew about our stance before we made it public. We don’t want to cause them any embarrassment but we don’t want to benefit from this kind of income. I’d have no qualms about taking the same stance if it was a tobacco company. All we are asking is that, when they come reconsider sponsorships when contracts are up for renewal, the league think about what is appropriate. They do an absolutely fantastic job getting sponsors but on this issue I think they might have it wrong. The tide is starting to turn.”
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