This week saw Joey Barton forced into retirement after receiving an 18 month ban for betting on football matches whilst active as a professional footballer from 2006 to 2016. There’s no suggestion of any match fixing and so some, of course including Barton himself, have suggested that the ban is too harsh. Particularly as it in Barton’s words ‘forces him into retirement’. There’s a bit of confusion as to whether Barton had bet on any matches he was involved in and for me here lies the problem and why the ban is more than fair.
Barton did indeed make bets involving his current team at the time and although most of these were on matches that he wasn’t in the squad for (he’d bet on his team to lose after being frustrated about not being in the squad), there were 2 bets on matches he was involved in including one for him to be the first goalscorer. His argument is that he made no bets where he could influence the outcome and although this seems to be true it can be difficult to prove.
For all we know, Barton could be good friends with the opposing goalkeeper and colluded with him to help him to score and win the bet. Yes, in these circumstances the amounts bets by Barton, an average of £150 aren’t enough to suggest that this was even close to being the case but if we’re judging amounts and what exactly you can influence the lines become very blurred. £150 bets might not suggest match fixing for players as wealthy such as Barton but for a footballer in the national league they might. Are we going to have to check amounts wagered against players earnings to decide whether there is any chance of integrity at stake? Even for players who earn the same amount of money, we all have different spending habits and money means more to some than others.
Nobody should have to sift through Joey’s 10 year betting activity to assess if all was legitimate in terms of integrity. It is quite simple, if you play the sport professionally you can’t and shouldn’t bet on it. If you choose to ignore this then you have to face the consequences.
Barton claims that his reputation is the reason for his ‘harsh treatment’ but I’d suggest that if his character and past had been factored into the ruling, the ban would have been bigger. In court we often look at the accused’s character to help us determine a fair sentence and even if the FA had decided to do that, Barton could have no complaints.
Claims of gambling addiction and trying to blame the excessive gambling adverts on the TV and elsewhere is a cop-out too. I don’t know whether Barton is addicted or not. His betting history, although frequent doesn’t suggest he is but this should make no difference to the outcome. Yes, there are too many gambling adverts but again this is a separate issue and you know it’s all off-limits if you’re a professional footballer. If Barton does have a problem with gambling, then of course he should be given help and support to combat it but it doesn’t change the fact he broke the rules.
Barton himself knew the rules, as he always does but true to form he chose to ignore them and push the boundaries. I don’t blame him for appealing as we all have to do what we have to do but the length of the ban is more than fair and in my opinion he should think himself very lucky that he wasn’t caught earlier.
This may well open up a can of worms and there might be plenty of sweating off the pitch for other footballers but integrity in sport is a very important issue. It’s a good thing that the FA are making sure that the punishments are enough of a deterrent if it is even close to being compromised.