independent

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Bigwigs bury head in sand with Barton ban

Weird Wide World of Sport

Dave Devereux

Joey Barton has been hung out to dry by the FA after he breached betting rules
Joey Barton has been hung out to dry by the FA after he breached betting rules

It's not too often that I have felt sorry for controversial footballer Joey Barton during his chequered career, but I do have genuine sympathy for him after his disproportionate ban for betting, while the FA, ostrich-like, continues to bury its head in the sand about the extent of the problem.

The hot-headed midfielder was hit with an 18-month suspension from the game for breaching betting rules, a hiatus which in all probability will signal the end of his career.

Anecdotal evidence suggests systemic gambling is rife among young professional footballers, so instead of making an example of Barton with a harsh punishment they should have gone out of their way to publicly offer him the hand of help.

The governing body are just denying that the problem even exists and brushing it firmly under the carpet like all the other dark and dusty secrets that have plagued the game for years.

What young player struggling to cope with a gambling addiction would want to come forward seeking help after the over-the-top punishment that has been meted out to Barton?

With the drinking culture of the '80s and early '90s thankfully gone from the game due to increased demands on the body and more stringent fitness regimes, susceptible players with addiction issues will turn to gambling to get their thrills.

The FA need to stand up and give guidance, instead of the sorry situation that exists at present, where they feel the wisest course of action is to make an example of a high-profile figure in the game, while at the same time showing utter hypocrisy by milking the gambling industry cash cow for all that it's worth.

Given his past riddled with misdemeanours, Barton is an easy target, but the truth is you can't watch a football match without being bombarded with gambling sponsorship and betting advertisements that use glamour and humour in equal measure to suck in potential victims.

The English football authorities want to have their cake and eat it. If they want to dance with the devil, they can't expect impressionable players to have a holier than thou attitude to betting.

Barton isn't the first and won't be the last well-known footballer to suffer from a gambling problem, with the likes of Paul Merson, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Keith Gillespie and John Hartson hitting the headlines in the past.

The problem is rife within society as a whole, but the spare time and money available to players makes it an even more pressing issue in the surreal world of professional football.

Players are always struggling to replicate that indescribable high of scoring a winning goal or making that vital penalty save and end up losing gargantuan amounts of money on card games, horse racing or even the sport that has shaped them, football.

Unlike the goings-on at Athlone Town, where allegations of match-fixing have thrown a dark cloud over the Airtricity League, Barton's crime was not trying to alter the results of matches for financial gain, it was merely placing bets, like any mug punter down at the local bookies.

Gambling as a whole isn't blacklisted by the powers-that-be in the game, just wagering on the sport that affords them a living, and there's no doubting that the Burnley player broke the rules by betting on football and should face some sort of sanction, but hanging him out to dry won't help to get to the bottom of an epidemic.

The former Manchester City, Newcastle, QPR, Marseilles and Rangers man is far from a saint and has made many high-profile mistakes. Trouble has followed him pretty much everywhere he's been in his career, including serving jail time for assault.

However, his indiscretions of the past and his dubious character shouldn't be allowed to cloud this issue.

There was certainly nothing shady or untoward going on, simply a case of a gambling addict placing a number of bets on games, which although clearly against the rules wouldn't hurt anyone bar his own bank balance.

He was definitely no Einstein when it came to keeping his indiscretion a secret, placing the bets in an account held in his own name, registered to his home address.

Betting in sport is a huge issue that will continue to ruin lives, but hanging Joey Barton on the cross and throwing stones at him in front of a public gallery will only serve to drive the problem underground and make it more difficult for those suffering in silence to come forward to seek the help they need.

Wexford People

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