Ivan Toney is quite right in what he is saying. Having operated in full compliance with the Football Association’s investigation into his 262 alleged breaches of their betting rules – the very least he deserved was confidentiality. Instead, it has been made public that Toney has pleaded guilty to ‘many’ of the charges imposed against his name – while he is fighting to contest others. Still, it was also widely reported that he is expected to be punished with a six-month ban that could be imposed before the end of the current season.
“I was shocked and disappointed to see press speculation yesterday and today about the FA investigation process concerning me after I have been told by the FA that it is a confidential process until any decision has been made,” Toney declared in a lengthy statement posted on his social media channels on Wednesday before later insisting he is unable to provide any further comment on the matter.
“It is especially disturbing for me to read that the FA is saying I shall be banned from football for six months before there has even been a hearing and it does make me worried about the process.”
There is simply no avoiding that if Toney has breached any of the FA’s gambling regulations – he has done wrong. That’s black and white. As per the FA website, English football’s governing body “wants to preserve what is great in the beautiful game and has devised rules regarding betting in football to help protect the integrity and future of football. These rules apply to everyone involved in football, from the players and managers, to the match officials and club staff.”
As high-profile role models, it’s a minimal requirement that top-level players must be aware of their responsibilities to ensure they help preserve the integrity of the game through professionalism and proper conduct but ultimately, Toney is not alone and the charges do in fact point to a wider problem that is standing right before our very eyes.
The promotion of gambling is rife throughout English football and until you stem the flow of the bleeding – you cannot expect players to behave immaculately. Toney, who is still a reasonably young man at 26, is simply a product of his environment.
You only have to look at the Brentford shirt he has donned this season while scoring 14 Premier League goals in 21 outings. It is sponsored by South African gambling company Hollywoodbets, whose logo is emblazoned across the face of the crisp red-and white-striped Bees jersey.
The alleged charges that have been imposed against Toney are said to have occurred between 2017 and 2021 when the England international frontman was plying his trade in the English Football League with Peterborough before he later signed for the Bees in a £5million deal in August 2020.
During his time with each club, he was named the Sky Bet League One Player of the Month and the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month – holding the prize aloft on each occasion.
He also played for Newcastle during a time when the club were sponsored by betting firm Fun88, once again their logo was sprawled across the front of the Magpies’ shirt.
English football is happy to endorse gambling but at the same time, you will be hung out to dry if you fall into its traps. The hypocrisy is simply off the scale. And it must change.
Last summer, there was widespread outrage from families who have lost loved ones to gambling when Premier League clubs were handed the green light to strike sponsorship deals with betting companies ahead of the 2022/23 season.
Despite indications the move could be prohibited ahead of an independent review, eight top-flight clubs – including Brentford – secured front-of-shirt sponsorship deals.
Charles Ritchie, who co-founded the charity Gambling with Lives which supports families that have been rocked by gambling-related suicide, told The Guardian last August: “We need an end to all gambling advertising. The delays to the white paper are disgraceful.”
Finally, it appears there will be movement on this front with the government now on course to strike a deal with Premier League clubs which will see gambling sponsors removed from the front of football shirts.
Toney’s club Brentford are already actively looking for a replacement sponsor for Hollywoodbets in preparation for the impending ban – that is undoubtedly a positive step in the right direction to eradicating English football’s dark association with gambling.
The uncomfortable reality of this desperate situation is that even if Toney is stung with a ban – it’s unlikely to deter other footballers from potentially placing further football bets. The buzz of lying low beneath the radar and continuing a bad habit is likely to outweigh the faint possibility of being caught red-handed by the powers that be.
If proven guilty, the FA will be expected to throw the book at Toney in an attempt to make an example of a high-profile player – much like Kieran Trippier and Daniel Sturridge, respectively – but it’s blatantly obvious that any possible ban does not eradicate or even begin to diminish a pandemic that is continuing to stain English football.
Everywhere you look, there are advertisements glorifying gambling’s close ties to the beautiful game including half-time promotional adverts, special offers and there have even been 8:15pm kick-offs implemented to work around the ‘whistle-to-whistle ban’ – initially designed to limit betting advertisements during television breaks.
Toney is just another victim of a broken system and sadly there will be many more.
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