The gambling game: Soccer’s battle with betting

Story highlights

Latest claims of football gambling put spotlight on English Premier League

Former players admit that betting is prevalent and part of team culture

Premier League has yet to indicate that it will take any action

Players' union says it should address the problem, not the ruling bodies

CNN —  

Soccer stars have plenty of spare time, and plenty of money, so this week’s revelations of players gambling on events during English Premier League matches should come as no surprise.

Claus Lundekvam’s claims that “spot-fix” betting was rife when he was a player have attracted the attention of world governing body FIFA, which is also battling against the widespread problem of match-fixing.

The Premier League has a well-documented gambling culture, with big names such as Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney owning race horses and featuring in big-stake “card schools” on international and club duty.

Before them, England internationals Tony Adams and Paul Merson had highly-publicized problems with gambling and alcohol.

Former Southampton player Lundekvam is the latest to talk candidly about footballers’ vices, revealing that he and other top-flight stars made money out of betting on minor events in games such as the first throw-in or corner kick.

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“For a while we did this almost every week,” Lundekvam told a Norwegian television channel. “We made a fair bit of money. We could make deals with the opposing captain.

“For example, betting on the first throw, the first corner, who started with the ball, a yellow card or a penalty. Those were the sorts of thing we had influence over.

“The results were never on the agenda. That is something I would never have done. We were professional competitors. Even though what we did, of course, was illegal, it was just a fun thing.”

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World governing body FIFA released a statement on Wednesday outlining its intention to look into Lundekvam’s claims.

“FIFA is monitoring this issue and involved its chief investigator in England,” FIFA told CNN. “Once all information is known it will be decided who is leading the investigations.”

The Premier League, which recently raised $4.5 billion selling broadcasting rights in Britain, declined to comment on the matter, while the English Football Association gave no indication it would be investigating Lundekvam’s claims.

“The FA has strict policies on this and our sanctions are wide-ranging. All participants also have a duty to report any such activity,” it told CNN.

“Football works closely with the gambling industry to monitor all markets and activity and we have a unit focused on maintaining the integrity of the sport.”

While the allegation of illegal activities within “the beautiful game” is worrying, it also shines a light on another possible parasite eating away at soccer’s top players.

Lars Bohinen was an international teammate of Lundekvam’s and enjoyed an eight-year Premier League career with Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Derby County.

The former midfielder said he was not aware of any spot-fixing when he played, but he does recall jokes being made about the subject during his time in England.

“One of the examples Claus put forward was that you could bet on the first throw-in,” said Bohinen, who retired in 2005.

“I remember we joked about that sometimes, but it was never seriously discussed. It was a rumor which went around at the time.

“I suppose having learned about what’s happened it would be naive to think it wasn’t there, but I can’t say to what extent it was there.”

Bohinen did acknowledge that players would bet thousands of pounds on the way to matches.

“It’s not well known, but there have been cases,” he said. “People could lose £3,000 or £4,000 on a bus trip to London. Obviously that’s not the best way to prepare for a game.

“At one of my clubs they put an end to gambling on the bus on the way to away games. I think there are a lot more problems going on than people get to hear about.”

The Premier League’s highly-paid players have become celebrities, which can make it even harder to admit to a gambling problem when your fans see you as a sporting hero.

“Gambling addiction is not something players talk about … They would never come out and say that, but you could sense it from the way they gambled on cards, horses and football,” Bohinen said.

Many sportsmen suffering from addiction problems have turned to the Sporting Chance Clinic, a charity set up by former England captain Adams.

“The issue may be getting to admit there is a problem in the first place,” said a Sporting Chance spokesperson. “If you’re talking about footballers, there is a very clear, defined process in place.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) – the union which represents the concerns of players in England and Wales – refers cases of addiction to Sporting Chance, which offers residential care.

“If you are a professional player at any level, if you are a member of the PFA, there is a huge support network in place which we are part of,” said the Sporting Chance spokesperson.

“There is a clear, full process in place which we are almost the culmination of. We get to see what you would almost consider the worst cases.”

However, PFA management committee chairman Clarke Carlisle suggested greater regulatory scrutiny raised privacy issues and also threatened to make the problem worse.

“We’ve not had a survey or a general questionnaire about the gambling habits of the players,” said Carlisle, who was part of the Burnley team which played in the Premier League in the 2009-10 season.

“The problem is that gambling calls into question the integrity of a match and of the sport.

“As a union, we’re never going to stop players gambling. If you were to put a blanket ban on it you would just drive it underground. That would only serve to put people in a far more precarious position.”

Carlise, who went to Sporting Chance when he battled alcoholism, would like to see the clinic given greater resources.

“I think it’s an excellent facility and one which needs to expand. It’s a perfect setting to get away from the outside influences of what is going on in your life and really focus on addressing your issues,” the 32-year-old said.

“In that perfect setting there are people who have an empathy with what is going on in your life, which is the greatest thing anyone can show you.”

Carlisle refused to blame the Premier League or the FA for their response to gambling and spot-fixing, saying it is the role of the PFA to understand the needs of footballers.

“You’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has hit on the solution yet.

“Is it the FA’s remit to cure the ills of the individuals within the game? Probably not. It is the PFA’s remit to make sure we’re aware of the what the lads are going through and the problems they are facing.”