Athletes could be given the right to refuse to wear gambling logos on their kit on religious or health grounds if a UK government proposal is adopted into a new code of conduct.
The government published its wide-ranging white paper on reform in the gambling sector on 27th April.
Some campaigners have called for the government to introduce an outright ban on gambling sponsorship in sport, but the sports industry will be left to draw up its own “robust” code for socially responsible gambling sponsorship.
Work on the cross-sport code is already under way, but the white paper set out a series of ‘example principles’ the code could cover, including: “Kits without sponsor logos to be ensured for…adults who have religious or health reasons to object to wearing gambling sponsors.”
Former Newcastle forward Papiss Cisse initially refused to wear the club’s shirt in 2013 when it bore the logo of a payday lending firm, Wonga, because he said it offended his Muslim faith.
The player was initially left behind for the team’s pre-season training camp, and the matter was only resolved after complex negotiations which involved the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), with Cisse agreeing to wear the kit.
Gambling is forbidden in the Muslim faith.
The principle ultimately may not form part of the code if it is considered unworkable by the sports industry, but the white paper insists any code must spark “meaningful improvements” in making gambling sponsorship more socially responsible.
Other principles suggested were a commitment to reinvestment of funds from gambling sponsorship into development and grassroots activities and ensuring gambling advertising is not visible in or from dedicated family areas.
Earlier this month the Premier League announced its clubs had collectively agreed to voluntarily withdraw front-of-shirt gambling sponsorship from 2025-26 onwards, something which was welcomed in the white paper.
The white paper said that in spite of a ‘whistle to whistle’ ban on gambling adverts on television, “we recognise that sports sponsorship remains an environment where children may be exposed to gambling brands”.
“Overall, indirect exposure to gambling marketing around sport is high, including among children, and can be particularly challenging for those already suffering gambling-related harms,” the paper said.
The paper said a robust code would have the effect of ensuring that “where (gambling sponsorship) does appear, the public can have confidence in the social responsibility of the arrangement, and in turn its potential impact on children and vulnerable people.
“We are challenging the sports and esports sectors and the industry to set a high standard for social responsibility, with the potential not only to improve standards in gambling sponsorship but also to provide a model for responsible sponsorship by other sectors.”
The paper said the code would not apply to National Lottery branding in Lottery-funded sports to recognise “the major role” it plays.
The paper estimated the sports sector earns UK£190 million (US$237 million) a year from gambling sponsorship based on evidence submitted by industry bodies, with UK£45 million (US$56 million) of that going to the English Football League (EFL) and clubs across its three divisions, including the money it receives from its title sponsor Sky Bet.
That agreement between the EFL, which runs the second, third and fourth tiers of English soccer, and Sky Bet drew specific praise in the paper, which said the social responsibility agreements in the contract offered other sports governing bodies “scope to learn from”.
An EFL spokesperson said: “Having submitted evidence to the Gambling Act Review, the EFL welcomes the long-awaited publication of the white paper which offers an updated vision for gambling regulation in this country.
“It is the league’s long-held view that it is for government to determine what is the appropriate regulatory framework for the UK’s gambling sector, and while sports partnerships are just one small part of this white paper’s scope, its publication will help organisations determine how they can continue to work with responsible gambling operators moving forward.”