Footballers’ voices: gambling and addiction in football

Media reports have highlighted gambling problems amongst a minority of professional footballers. New research, published in Addiction Research Theory, has revealed how some players could develop difficulties with their gambling, and what can be done to help them seek treatment.

Footballers with a range of professional experiences, who have experienced gambling problems, were interviewed as part of research by Bangor, London and Oxford universities. The researchers had direct access to the players to learn about their experiences of gambling and how and why their gambling became a problem.

Professor Robert Rogers of Bangor University’s School of Psychology said:  “It is unusual to able to sit down with footballers affected by these problems and learn how their gambling problems developed, their experiences and the impact their gambling had on their careers and family lives.”

“A better understanding of how gambling problems develop in footballer and, perhaps, other competitive sports people should enable professionals to assist others who may find themselves in similar situations, and help the professional bodies develop preventative measures and treatments such as those at Sporting Chance.”

The researchers found that the footballers interviewed in their study began gambling as a shared leisure activity; they also found that gambling successes could mimic some of the excitement of footballing success on the field. On the other hand though, in these players, gambling tended to become problematic in the face of the high level of pressures experienced in the professional game. Players tended to gamble in isolation as way to cope with some of the arbitrary challenges of the game such as long-term injury, being dropped from squad football, contract release or being transferred away from family and friends.

The research also highlights some of the obstacles to seeking help including a reluctance to admit to themselves that their gambling had become a problem-and a fear that telling their coaching staff about their difficulties would lead to being dropped from first team football. On the other hand, hearing from other players about how they had found help was particularly effective in triggering players to seek assistance.

Professor Rogers adds: “Our research highlighted several factors which could reduce the risk of footballers becoming addicted to gambling.

“This includes the need for staff and coaches at football clubs to be aware of the influence of peer behaviour, as well as the major influence that senior players’ gambling behaviour has on young players by setting social norms.

“Another important factor to consider is how clubs deal with players that have been dropped from the first team because of injury or form, as well as those players that are out on loan to other clubs, and are frequently more isolated as a result.”

Colin Bland, Chief Executive of Sporting Chance Clinic commented:

"Sporting Chance is pleased to be associated with Dr Rogers' research as it is always good to gain further insight into factors that influence football players who cross the line into problem gambling. We, alongside the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association), have been offering pathways to solutions to this issue for fifteen years and any information that can inform better practice is gratefully received."

Publication date: 19 August 2016