The number of professional sportspeople seeking help for gambling addiction has increased since the first coronavirus lockdown, says Sporting Chance CEO Colin Bland.
Sporting Chance, a mental health charity that provides a specialist addiction and recovery facility for professional sportspeople, says about 50 per cent of its clients treated for addiction in 2019 had gambling problems.
This year, with so many people struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of cases has risen.
“When we first entered lockdown, our telephones went quite quiet for a period of time and as it went on, they started to get busier and busier,” Bland told Sky Sports News.
“In one week every phone call we took was from a current player talking about their relationship with gambling, so we really have seen a rise in it.”
‘People finding new ways to gamble’
The pandemic has affected sport across the world with many major football, cycling and rugby events cancelled or postponed.
Despite not being able to bet on professional sport at the beginning of the crisis, Bland says people have simply found new ways to gamble.
“We’ve seen people changing what they bet on and not being able to stop at times when they’ve wanted to,” he said.
“The first lockdown saw professional sport stop, so there was a big switch away from gambling on sport to gambling online.
Pandemic reducing face-to-face education
As well as the rise in Sporting Chance’s gambling addiction cases, Bland said in an open letter last month there had also been an increase in requests from professionals for more education on gambling.
Although it can be done online, Bland told Sky Sports News the most effective form of education is in the form of face-to-face contact, which has not been possible during the pandemic.
“I think one of the other effects of the pandemic and one of the impacts we’ve seen is access to players,” Bland said.
“Because everyone is trying to return to sport in a very Covid-friendly way and minimising contact with players, things like education and access to player welfare have reduced slightly.
“There’s people who have got into problems during the pandemic because of the fears they have around their career, for example, and then the amount of education and the amount of contact they have with people who can signpost them to help has been reduced.
“Most of the sports we work across offer very good education programmes to their players and there is a lot of good work being done online, but we would suggest the most effective education you can get is face to face and getting into the clubs, and of course none of that’s been able to happen during the pandemic.”
‘Cases have been growing for years’
First set up in 2000 by former Arsenal captain Tony Adams to treat footballers, Sporting Chance now offers services for those in other sports such as rugby league, cricket, horseracing, squash, darts, snooker and tennis.
Although gambling cases have grown during the pandemic, Bland says it has been on the rise for much longer.
“It has actually been on the increase over the last decade and there’s all sorts of anecdotal evidence as to why that might be,” Bland said.
“Going back to Tony Adams’ days when alcohol was a big thing in the playing population, I don’t think any current player in football could have that lifestyle and perform as well as they have to today.
“We also know there’s an awful lot of drug testing so people can’t use substances, so gambling does seem to be a very common symptom.”
For more information about Sporting Chance and the support available, click here.
Simmonds: Industry committed to safer gambling
Brigid Simmonds, chair of the Betting and Gaming Council, says the gambling industry has “safer gambling at the heart of everything they do”.
Safer Gambling Week, an industry-led campaign taking place from November 19-25 to promote safer gambling, is led by the Betting and Gaming Council, Bingo Association and the British Amusement Catering Trade Association and supported by more than 200 organisations.
The Betting and Gaming Council works closely with the Gambling Commission – the country’s regulatory body for gambling – and aims to ensure an “enjoyable, fair and safe betting and gaming experience” for all their customers.
“All our members are absolutely committed to this. They have safer gambling at the heart of everything they do,” Simmonds said.
“In the past year we’ve introduced everything from advertising restrictions to whistle-to-whistle bans, so you now don’t see advertising on television five minutes before or five minutes after and that’s seen a 97 per cent reduction in advertisements seen by young people.
“We’ve made changes to our customer codes to make sure you can’t gamble under 25 without really specific information. We’re also making changes to game design.
“We’re about to go into a gambling review by the government which we welcome and we will be building on these changes.”
Q&A: What is Safer Gambling Week?
Safer Gambling Week aims to encourage more conversations about the importance of safe betting.
The whole of the UK and Irish gambling industry, including bookmakers, amusement arcades, bingo clubs, casinos and online, has come together to support the week, which includes the promotion of workshops and training sessions.
As part of Safer Gambling Week, Sky Sports News’ chief reporter Bryan Swanson answers some key questions as the gambling industry promotes more conversations in sport.