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Fan group wants tougher betting laws in Scottish football

SFSA slams weak gambling penalties in Scottish football
THE Scottish Football Supporters’ Association (SFSA) has called on authorities to take stronger action against the spread of gambling crimes within the sport’s professional ranks.

“It’s time to step back and ask if self-regulation is the right way to tackle this problem,” said SFSA chairman Paul Goodwin last Friday.

“We know that there is a zero-tolerance to gambling but that’s obviously just not working.”

British football has suffered a series of gambling-related scandals in 2017.

In April, former England midfielder Joey Barton was handed an 18-month ban for betting on games.

UK tabloids have littered their back pages with horror stories of top-flight players blowing their wages on poker, horse racing, greyhounds and online casino games.

In the most recent case to come out of Scotland, the chairman of Annan Athletic was fined £3000 (AUD $5200) last Thursday over a litany of gambling offences.

Henry McClelland was found to have placed in excess of 4000 bets on football matches, some 430 of which involved his own team.

That included four known instances in which he wagered against Athletic.

Highlighting the obvious potential for corruption and match-fixing, Mr Goodwin expressed shock at the leniency shown towards McClelland.

“The fine is surprising,” he said.

“Most fans, the line that they would draw, would be anyone from a club betting against their own team.”

The SFSA’s views fall in line with those of the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Earlier this year, PFA boss John Rankin claimed gambling was “rife” among players and that current prevention measures were having no effect.

He also said the problem had spread far beyond the playing fraternity – a point that hit home with the McClelland case.

“It’s not just players who are gambling,” Rankin told BBC Radio in an April interview.

“Managers, referees, directors, chairmen, they’ve all got inside knowledge.

“Are you telling me they don’t have betting accounts? I would suggest they have.”

According to Mr Goodwin, football supporters in Scotland have been left confused by the “arbitrary” nature of the punishments dished out to gambling offenders.

He also urged the Scottish FA to address whether it was appropriate for betting firms to have such a significant sponsorship presence within the game.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” Goodwin said.

“Is there a clear pathway? Do the same rules apply to everyone?

“The fines and suspensions just seem to be so arbitrary.

“And that’s only one part of it.

“Then there is the amount of sponsorship that comes into the game [rom the gambling industry].

“Can someone independent from the confines of the offices at Hampden Park look at this and come up with some other solutions?”

Our thoughts on gambling issues in football

Messrs Goodwin and Rankin make some excellent points that apply not only to British football, but to the state of gambling regulation in professional sport worldwide.

While things are improving in Australia, there are still far too many cases in the recent past where organisations such as the AFL and the NRL have opted for a wrist-slap when a sledgehammer was required.

The McClelland case is something else.

It is simply incredible that a club chairman can be fined only £3000 – some two-thirds of which was suspended, by the way – after betting against his own team on multiple occasions.

Never mind that Annan Athletic play in the third tier of Scottish football – that kind of behaviour is grounds for lifetime exclusion at any level.

Even the Barton case is worthy of examination.

Is a sentence of 18 months really harsh enough for thousands of betting offences spanning more than a decade?

A busted knee can keep you off the park for longer than that.

FA regulators even went out of their way to stress that Barton’s ban was the “shortest possible” sentence they could hand down.

Players, managers and club officials know they are not allowed to wager on matches, yet it keeps happening.

It is time for organisations such as the SFA to get serious and start backing up their ‘zero tolerance’ policies with penalties that match the rhetoric.

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