Yesterday, the FA charged Ivan Toney with 232 violations of the rules against betting on football. That’s a lot of violations and a lot of gambling. We should note that the FA charging players, especially in the lower leagues, for gambling-related infractions is not uncommon. But the Toney’s profile as a Premier League player and the sheer number of alleged infractions is new and surprising. He faces a potentially lengthy ban should the allegations prove true.
I understand why the rules are in place. I get that there cannot be even the appearance of impropriety. I do find it a bit odd that footballers are prohibited from placing any sort of bet on football — it would seem that as long as they aren’t betting on themselves, their own team, and probably their own division, they’re alright. But the rules are the rules.
The relationship between football and gambling is massively hypocritical. Ivan Toney plays with “Hollywood Bets” splashed across the front of his shirt. Matthew Benham, who owns Brentford, owns a statistical research company for betters (SmartOdds) and a betting exchange (Matchbook). There are betting counters inside every ground in the Premier League. Everything football does screams “bet on football” but the players, whose actions create the product on which the owners are encouraging betting, aren’t allowed to do it.
To be clear, I’m not saying footballers should have free reign to bet on football. I haven’t given it enough considered thought (because I’m sure there are angles to it that I don’t know / haven’t examined) to say that footballers should be allowed to bet in limited, regulated circumstances, either. It’s just a very odd state of affairs.