Assistant Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), Simon Barker spoke to SBC about a wide variety of subjects from the importance of the Sporting Chance clinic, to the role the PFA plays in player education.
Barker joined the PFA after an extensive career as a professional player, appearing over 213 times and scoring on 41 occasions for Blackburn Rovers. The combative midfielder then moved down South enjoying a ten year spell at QPR, donning the blue and white hoops on 376 occasions cementing his legacy as a firm favourite at Loftus Road.
Formed on the 2nd December 1907, the PFA holds the prestigious title of being the world’s longest established professional sportsperson’s union. It’s main aim is to protect, improve and negotiate the conditions, rights and status of all professional players by collective bargaining agreements.
Detailing some of the methods that the PFA has undertaken to safeguard players at risk of problem gambling, Barker stated: “We have education programmes that we take out to the clubs and deliver to senior and young players. With the problem gambling education programme we use Sporting Chance, which first started with Tony Adams, we’ve been funding them and have had a great relationship with them since they were formed in 2001.
“A lot of the guys who work at Sporting Chance are former players who have previously had problems with gambling, drugs and alcohol, this allows them to speak to players on a level that they can identify with as they have been there themselves.”
The PFA also plays a key role in ensuring integrity is maintained within the game, breaking it down clearly to players what is prohibited within sports betting, an education that is especially significant when it comes to younger players.
Barker commented: “When it comes to betting integrity, we talk about the rules and regulations with regards to what players can and can’t do in respect to betting, but also inside information and leading onto more serious offences like match-fixing, looking at things like how you can be approached, what an approach looks like and what players have to do in respect to reporting things to the appropriate people. Ultimately, that is the FA, but if they’re not sure they can speak to somebody they trust at the club or the PFA, where we can give them advice about where to go and report it.
“We speak to quite a few of the young lads at clubs and it’s interesting, quite a few of them don’t bet, but there are a number of them that do. I think it depends on whether they have been brought up in a family culture of betting and also their personal friends. It’s important that they are aware of their responsibility as a professional footballer and how important it is that they show the integrity of the game, part of that is not being able to bet on the game, the last thing that anyone wants to see is players betting on football, although players will say what’s the problem with me betting on my team winning and I understand their argument, but it’s about integrity and the perception of integrity as well.”
Furthermore, it’s not only current players who benefit from the services provided by the PFA, with the experience of telling their story to younger players being one that can be highly valuable to the welfare of former players that have previously suffered from an addiction or been forced into an early retirement from the game.
Barker described how former players play a key role in some of the procedures that the PFA undertakes to get its message across to current players: “We believe in face to face education directly speaking to players, but you’ve got to mix up the message utilising films and footage of players who have been caught up in this. We have one particular film we use featuring Fabrice Muamba, who talks about how players will get caught and the sort of rules and regulations around, as well as the fact that betting operators are licensed by the Gambling Commission and if they believe that a sportsman whether that be a footballer or not, is breaching the rules, they have to by law report that to the Gambling Commission.
“We also have Moses Swaibu who was convicted of match fixing, he did a film for us as well and talks about the dangers of match fixing, he went to prison and was banned for life from football. We also have videos involving people like John Hartson, who had problems with gambling, lost nearly all his money and almost lost his marriage and his home, Clarke Carlisle ex Burnley and Leeds player is very similar.
“It’s important to use former players, because players identify with them and recognise that they’ve been in the same place as they’re now and just trying to show them that it can lead to major problems if they let it, not just for themselves but also for their colleagues, who could recognise the signs and spot it early so that we can help them with the intervention methods we have and with counselling and the sporting chance so we can help players.”
In 2014 the FA strengthened its regulations, prohibiting footballers from the top eight domestic divisions betting on any global football matches. Barker emphasised that it simply isn’t worth the risk for betting operators when it comes to accepting bets from professional players: “It’s worth remembering that betting operators by law have to report any player that they believe is breaching betting rules, that is part of their licensing agreement with the Gambling Commission and if they don’t do that and it’s uncovered that they’ve kept that information quiet, they can lose their license. It’s a very serious thing.
“As I say to players, every time a player is charged the FA is in possession of all the evidence, the information is provided for them by the betting operators. They’re not going to get away with it, the best thing is, if they want to have a bet, do it on another sport, don’t bet on your own sport.”
Referring to comments made by former Burnley and Manchester City midfielder, Joey Barton, who described the FA’s regulations as a “totalitarian kind of ban,” Barker outlined that: “Joey was talking about his situation, whereby his account was in his own name and the betting operator didn’t report him for a long time, now I don’t know what that situation is, it might just be something that didn’t come to light until a lot later, but still, I understand his argument, however, he was breaching betting rules, if you do the crime you have to do the time.”
Barton, who is currently serving a 13-month ban for admitting placing bets on 1,260 matches, also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he believes at least 50% of the playing staff currently gamble on football, Barker responded: “With regards to what he (Barton) says about 50% of players betting on football, I don’t know how he has picked that figure out.
“What I would say, is that most players know what the rules are through our betting education programmes, I believe players are aware they can’t bet on football, what we’re here to do is to layout what the rules and sanctions are and to talk about why they’re in place and about the integrity of the game and why the most important thing in the game is that there is a belief that everyone is trying to win all the time, sport relies on that.”