The timeless tradition of having a punt is so commonplace around the world that billions reportedly partake in gambling each and every year. Even with the risk of addiction and significant financial loss attached to it, gambling remains a tried-and-true pastime for many. However, for a professional athlete to bet on the team that they play for, let alone the sport they compete in, the act of doing this will invariably result in condemnation, scrutiny, and suspension – something Brentford FC footballer Ivan Toney knows all too well…
Toney, who represents Brentford in the Premier League and who recently debuted for England’s national football team in March, is currently serving an eight-month suspension after he admitted to 262 breaches of the Football Association’s (FA) betting rules.
Having been initially charged in November 2022 with an alleged 232 breaches of the FA’s betting laws, Toney’s situation worsened when the FA levelled a further 30 breaches against his name a month later.
The sanctions imposed by the independent regulatory commission in charge of the case include a £50,000 ($62,000) fine and an 8-month suspension, which was reduced from 11 months after Toney was diagnosed with a gambling addiction. The suspension means that Toney is unable to return to match action until January next year, although some on social media are considering this to be too lenient…
Why was Ivan Toney suspended from playing football?
In 2022, England’s Football Association (FA) discovered that over a period of five years, Brentford striker Ivan Toney had breached rules prohibiting professional footballers from betting on their own sport. During this period (2017 to 2021), Toney played for Newcastle United and Peterborough United before moving to Brentford in 2020.
The striker, who has scored 20 goals in 33 Premier League games this season, was found to have placed 13 bets on his own team to lose in seven different matches during the 2017/18 season. 11 of those bets were against Newcastle when he was out on loan away from the Northern England club.
Two other bets were placed on a game between Wigan and Aston Villa, but Toney, on loan at Wigan at the time, was not involved in the matchday squad. The England international also bet on his own team to win 15 different matches and himself to score in nine different matches, the independent commission found.
Without a doubt, the root of the issue behind Toney’s actions is the obvious potential for his gambling to have influenced his state of mind and potentiality for match-fixing whilst playing. Critically, Toney plays in the highly influential position of striker, meaning Toney is the individual who much of his team’s hopes of winning games and scoring goals hinge on.
However, despite bringing the game into disrepute with his actions, the regulatory commission ruled Toney’s case was not one of match-fixing.
“There is no evidence that Mr Toney did or was even in a position to influence his own team to lose when he placed bets against them winning,” it said, pointing out that “he was not in the squad or eligible to play at the time.”
It’s a complex situation that has been elevated by the inconsistent information the public has received about the extent of Toney’s alleged gambling. It also has arrived at the peak of Toney’s career so far, with the forward finishing as Brentford’s top goalscorer for 3 years across seasons in the Championship and the Premier League.
The situation, which appears to paint Toney as betting for the thrill of it rather than with the intention of winning games, prompted the England international to post a cryptic tweet alluding to the suspension, stating: “I’ll speak soon with no filter.”
Ivan Toney has been diagnosed with a gambling addiction
Psychiatrist Dr Philip Hopley, who attended Toney’s personal hearing, diagnosed the forward with a gambling addiction, leading to his suspension being reduced to an 8-month period.
“The commission finds that a significant reduction should be made to reflect the diagnosed gambling addiction identified by Dr Hopley,” the written reasons document, published on Friday, said.
“The lack of control the player has in respect of gambling is clearly a reflection of his diagnosed gambling addiction.”Dr Philip Hopley
The result of the hearing and Toney’s diagnosis also prompted his club side to pledge their support for their star man, releasing a statement of their own in the process.
“Ivan and Brentford FC accept that offences were committed, and sanctions were inevitable,” the statement read.
“The commission noted that none of the charges related to events where Ivan could negatively impact his own team. The detail is included in the written reasons. The club will now be doing everything possible to provide support to Ivan and his family to deal with the issues raised in this case.”
The (un)glamorous history of footballers and gambling
Ivan Toney is not the first well-known professional footballer to shock the public and face administrative scrutiny for their proclivity to bet.
Manchester United legend George Best famously took up gambling as an accompaniment to his well-established addiction to alcohol, which unfortunately led to a mountain of health and financial problems that contributed to his passing in 2005 due to complications following a liver transplant.
Comparatively, controversial former England international Joey Barton was banned from the game for 18 months on betting charges. Barton was found in 2017 to have placed 1,260 bets on football matches between 2006 and 2013, including five matches in which he was a player. The infamously no-nonsense midfielder, who spent time in prison for assault in 2008, was forced to serve a ban from all football activity for 15 months.
England internationals Kieran Trippier and Daniel Sturridge similarly found themselves in hot water for separate incidents where an individual in their respective circles bet and won big after being informed early about their imminent club moves.
Sturridge, who alerted friends about his incoming move to Turkish side Trabzonspor, was subsequently banned from football for four months, fined £150,000, let go by his club, and eventually underwent a wasted spell with Perth Glory. Trippier, who had been cleared of benefitting from the bet after it was found he had no clue his friend made the bet, was still hit with a 10-week ban and a fine of £70,000. Brutal.
Despite the fact the Premier League is the richest football league in the world, where players earn millions and are free to revel in the excess that is facilitated by their talent, the temptation to gamble still remains.
Truthfully, when it comes to sports betting, the omnipresence of companies like bet365, Sportsbet and Ladbrokes in sponsorship and advertising makes it difficult to avoid the urge to have a punt.
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Whilst us civilians are free to burn through our hard-earned cash on a notoriously unrewarding pastime, the professional athletes we bet on are (understandably) expected to uphold the rules of the game and not actively influence games to reap the profits with gambling.
Though one may struggle to understand why a footballer plying their trade in the most lucrative football league in the world would opt to gamble and potentially stifle their career, the reality is footballers are (without meaning to sound so hackneyed) humans too. And with that comes vices, vices that are preyed upon by gambling companies desperate to keep one hooked.
The onus is arguably now on the FA to make changes in the sport that allows betting companies to sponsor stadiums and teams, and therefore inject massive financial revenue into the game. Perhaps they will follow suit from Belgium after they moved to ban gambling advertising across multiple platforms earlier this year, but only time will tell.