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Premier League’s front-of-shirt gambling ad ban is a flawed approach. Australia should learn from it


“Excellent decision.”

This was the response of English football great Gary Lineker to the announcement that the English Premier League has agreed to voluntarily “withdraw gambling sponsorship from the front of their matchday shirts”.

The league announced its decision after “extensive consultations” with the UK government over the review of gambling legislation.

This decision was accepted by the government as one main strategy to reduce children’s incidental exposure to gambling logos while watching football in the UK white paper on gambling released Thursday.

The white paper also identified the ban on the front of the shirt as part of an effort to move towards “socially responsible” sports sponsorship.

Some British campaigners were cautious about the decision, saying it was an important admission from the Premier League gambling advertising is harmful.

In Australia, some gambling reform groups said the measure was in place great newsand that Australian sporting codes should do the same.

However, extensive criticism of the deal came in the following days. Public health experts and other interested parties argued that the measure was more concerned with public relations than with harm prevention.

Experts argued that the ban would do little to address the problem deep-rooted relationship between the gambling industry and sportand could even be a step backwards.

Many were concerned that the measure deviated from the urgent need for comprehensive restrictions on gambling marketing – a measure widely supported to prevent the normalization of children’s gambling.

And the UK white paper did little to implement the comprehensive restrictions required to do so reduce children’s daily exposure to gambling promotions.

A flawed approach

The core of the criticism was that the decision, as well as the associated measures, did little to address the spread of gambling marketing in sport.

The agreement:

  • removes only a small portion of the marketing on the front of matchday shirts. This leaves the door open for guess branding to stay on other parts of the uniform and other kits

  • does not address marketing or branding around sports grounds

  • will not be implemented until the end of the 2025-26 season – hardly a sign of an urgent need to reduce the marketing of a harmful product

  • includes a pledge to establish a “new code of responsible gambling sponsorship”.

  • and apparently ignores the evidence what voluntary codes are primarily for protect the interests of advertisersnot the community.

The shortcomings in the Premier League’s decision highlight the significant difficulties in allowing those with vested interests to make decisions about what they are willing to do (or not do) to protect the health of the public.

History shows these kinds of initiatives are rarely effective in reducing marketing for these products, or in protect children.

Instead of signaling progress, they serve to postpone regulations that would protect public health. Voluntary action and self-regulation are useful for governments that do not want to regulate a powerful industry. They are part of the narrative for the government that “something is being done”.

Sports betting marketing is widespread in the Australian sporting codes.
Jono Searle/AAP

Vested interests

In Australia, sports organizations have a significant interest in monetizing gambling products, sponsorships and promotions. Some, including the AFL, too receive a share of betting revenue on matches.

Peak sporty bodies claim sport delivers “long-term social, health, community and economic benefits”. While this is clearly true in many cases, it is inconsistent with the stance many Australian sporting codes have taken on gambling. This is especially true given the irrefutable links between gambling and some of Australia’s most pressing health and social problems, including homelessness, domestic violence, crime and mental health issues.

Rather than taking a strong stance to restrict gambling marketing, some sports codes have continued to do so normalize the promotion of gambling products. We’ve seen that all too clearly in recent times testimonials from the chief executives of the AFL and NRL on the current Australian parliamentary inquiry into online gambling.

Acknowledging their concerns about gambling marketing, the AFL and NRL chiefs, Gillon McLachlan and Andrew Abdo, said responsibility to the community was taken “seriously”. But both repeatedly spoke of the need for regulatory “balance” in relation to gambling.

McLachlan added, “I don’t believe brand advertising is too much in itself.”

But our research tells a different story.

Normalize gambling for children

Have children as young as eight awareness and recall of gambling brands and promotions. They can name multiple gambling brands, describe the advertisements in detail and even tell us what colors certain gambling companies are. Young people tell us that much of this awareness comes from seeing gambling marketing in sports.

The gaming industry is also becoming increasingly creative in linking games of chance to sport. This includes promotions on platforms like TikTok. Sportsbet CEO Barni Evans justified these promotions narrate the parliamentary inquiry “we only work with partners like TikTok who have reliable and robust age-gating technology”.

Learning from tobacco control

Government action is clearly the most effective intervention to curb marketing of harmful products. Therefore, governments took advertising and sponsorship decisions away from the tobacco industry.

Sports organizations also oppose restrictions on tobacco advertising and sponsorship (using many of the same arguments now used in defense of gambling promotions).

But history shows that a legal ban on tobacco advertising through sports has made a huge difference prevent young people from being exposed.

VicHealth anti-smoking campaign poster.
Governments have taken strong action against tobacco sponsorship in sport.
© Victorian Foundation for Health Promotion (VicHealth)

Read more: Gambling needs tobacco-like regulation in sports advertising and sponsorship

An opportunity for change

The Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Gambling looks at how best to respond to gambling marketing. It is important that we do not take the ineffective voluntary approach to marketing restrictions that the UK takes.

As public pressure for action increases, vested interests are likely to make even more small concessions that have little bearing on their advertising or their ability to target young people.

We need strong action from governments, not small steps lead nowhere. Gambling and sports organizations should play no role in decisions about protecting youth and the community from this predatory industry.

And their predatory advertising needs to be completely removed from the sporting arena, not just the front of matchday shirts in the English Premier League.

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