Are the FA missing the point by making an example of Joey Barton?
As the so called British summer drags on into August, football fans everywhere begin to salivate at the knowledge that the football season is soon to restart. Saturdays in the pub will have more meaning than drinking yourself into a blind stupor, although that is still a very probable outcome for many. Fantasy footballers across the world will be studying statistics like their lives depend on it whilst TV pundits iron their suits and practice their finger pointing in preparation of reciting said stats across the plethora of football highlights shows over the season’s broadcasting.
Along with the endless hyperbolic weekend coverage of football across all the mainstream channels will also come the endless hyperbolic betting adverts imploring viewers to get the same amount of emotion from a match as the manager on the bench whose livelihood depends on the outcome by predicting that the out of form striker will grab a brace or take out his frustration on another opponent and get sent off. Usually actor Ray Winstone is the one telling you to seize your moment whilst gambling responsibly in his gruff working class cockney accent which proves he can be trusted, apparently.
The betting industry and sport have gone hand in hand for many years without anyone taking umbrage but with the former’s influence reaching new heights the special relationship between the two is being put into focus. The charges and subsequent suspension from football for Nietzsche quoting, ex-Burnley midfielder, Joey Barton has highlighted a problem that has long gone unnoticed in sport: gambling addiction. The fact betting is synonymous with most major sporting events in terms of sponsorship surely acts as a conflict of interest with the FA’s recent hardline stance on betting in which Barton felt the brunt of in the formidable shape of his 18 month ban and £30,000 fine. This ban, which ended the 34 year old’s playing career, has been reduced to 13 months but still prevents the former Queens Park Rangers captain from playing in the “Game 4 Grenfell”, a charity match to be played at QPR’s home ground Loftus Road on the 2nd of September involving other former pros and celebrities aiming to raise awareness of the Grenfell Tower disaster along with raising funds for the victims of this horrendous ordeal.
Barton has long been a critic of the FA and that is in no sight of ending after he posted on twitter his frustration at not being able to play in the charity match as it is sanctioned by the FA. Barton goes on:
“I just wanted to say that I am personally very sad about this and I am also incredibly grateful to you for the generous offer”.
Barton has been open about his gambling addiction and released a statement on his website about the lengthy ban and hefty fine, giving his side of the story. He even submitted a medical report to the FA regarding the charges brought to him for betting.
The FA released its written reasons for the original 18 month ban in April of this year. It was conceded by the FA’s regulatory commision that Barton’s age would effectively mean the end of his playing career thanks to the ban but stood by their decision stating: “the suspension must lie where it falls”. The statement went on to say that Barton “has enjoyed a full career” and “Had he been apprehended and charged earlier, the result – almost certainly – would have been an immediate playing suspension (and all the consequences). He has avoided that and enjoyed the fruits”.
The judgement also noted that the 18 month ban was the “shortest possible” which contradicts their most recent decision to reduce the ban. This is not the only contradiction that highlights the hypocrisy Barton himself pointed out in an interview with the Sunday Times in June.
From an outsider’s perspective it would appear that the FA are making an example of Barton in order to show the world they mean business when it comes to footballers breaching the rules on betting. To say that Loftus Road will be waterlogged due to the tears of sadness the fans will shed because their former captain Joey Barton was banned from participating is as over the top as the majority of football and betting based adverts on Sky, BT and any other sports broadcaster you can think of. There will be many other big names that will hopefully mean a full house come the 2nd of September and we can only hope that justice is done for the people of Grenfell Tower.
The wider issue is of course the conflict of interest between betting and sport. When a sport relies so heavily upon the sponsorship of an industry that has thousands, perhaps millions, of people completely addicted and those people are also the customers and fans of aforementioned sports, questions need to be raised and even though a lot has been said of Barton and his highly controversial past, he is at least asking them.
The reduction of Barton’s ban, which goes against the FA’s original stance, does show leniency. However stopping him from playing a game for a great cause means the FA are scared of him becoming the good guy in the public’s image and therefore a voice fans of football may listen to and even look for when in need of guidance within the sport. They prefer the current narrative of the controversial Barton making statements that split rather than unify.
Ironically the ban that has ended Joey Barton’s playing career means it has become the catalyst for his punditry career as it was announced on the 1st of August that Barton has signed up to radio station talkSport as a pundit. Therefore we will be hearing a lot more of Barton’s opinions in the upcoming season much to the joy of the FA.
It’s pertinently obvious that something should be done by the FA to curtail the influence betting has on football and hopefully other major sporting authorities will take notice and follow suit. However, enforcing harsh punishments of players admitting to gambling addictions is more of a cry for attention than the start of a journey to make a well loved sport less reliant on the betting industry.