If you’re a baseball player and you bet on a baseball game in which you are involved, your career is over. You will be banned from baseball for life. The rule is straightforward and reads:
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.
Pete Rose, an icon of 70’s baseball, 17-time All Star, MVP of the 1975 World Series, all-time record holder for games played, at bats, hits and singles. Pete Rose is a three-time World Series winner and given his career he would currently be sitting in the hall of fame. Except one problem, he bet on baseball.
Gambling culture in the USA is different than in the UK that is for sure. Betting on sporting events is difficult or illegal in most states of the union and in the UK, gaming windows are available at half-time inside the stadiums. And in 2005, the UK relaxed their gambling restrictions, giving both foreign and UK firms the ability to advertise on TV. Despite a 2014 law requiring all firms who sponsor a football team to pay 15% tax, gambling firms are a major revenue stream for clubs and for the Football Association through sponsorships: 10 of the 20 teams in the Premier League wear shirts which are sponsored by gambling firms.
Gambling on football in the UK is ubiquitous. Bookies are everywhere and it’s easy to place a bet on a game, I’ve done so for almost every match I’ve attended. I even bet on a Champions League match inside the Emirates Stadium. Every time Joey Barton pulled on his kit, the front of his shirt read out the name of a Filipino gambling company and the Football Association itself, the very folks who ruled to ban Joey Barton for betting, is sponsored by one of the largest bookmakers in England.
Through his web site, Joey Barton has admitted that he bet on football. He not only bet on football, he bet on matches in which he played. And he even bet on himself in those matches. He bet against his own teams as well, but only when he wasn’t playing, so he says. And Barton claims, of course, that there is no evidence of him fixing matches.
Pete Rose is banned from baseball for life because he bet on games in which he was a manager or a player. The reason baseball has this rule is because in 1927 eight White Sox players were accused of taking money from gambling firms and throwing the World Series. Baseball didn’t want the public to think that their sport could be bought by mobsters and acted quickly, creating what is now known as Rule 21, which bans you for life if you’re found to have bet on games in which you are involved. It’s a nice, neat rule, that everyone knows, and that has prevented even the hint of corruption from creeping into baseball.
Baseball created this harsh rule because fans need to trust that the games that they watch are not corrupt. That the players are not throwing games and that the outcomes of such games are determined more by skill and brains than by betting. And the fans need to know that the association which rules over these players and these games is also not corrupt.
Unfortunately, football has its own long history of corruption. Antonio Conte, the current manager of Chelsea Football Club, the team who is likely to win the Premier League this season, was only recently acquitted of failing to report match-fixing. This corruption was going on with his team, Sienna, in 2011-12. The betting scandal in Italian football that season was widespread and a number of players received five year bans from the game. Corruption in football is not some 100 year old scandal. People have been convicted of match-fixing in the last five years. Football has a corruption problem.
The English Premier League is the most respected football league in the world. Few would suggest that the league is corrupt or that there is match fixing going on in the Premier League. The very reason the Premier League is so well respected is that it has largely escaped the scandals of places like Italy.
But in order to preserve that level of respect the Football Association and the Premier League need to show that they have no mercy for cheats and the scumbags who would exploit them. They need to make a Rule 21. Any player caught betting on a football match in which they have an influence on the outcome needs to be banned for life.
Until they make such a rule, it’s only a matter of time before a player like Barton, who was a Premier League player placing bets on his own team, lets his gambling addiction or vindictiveness or whatever excuse he wants to make up, get the best of him and throws a match in exchange for some good odds.