Players should not be allowed bet on any GAA game, says Oisín McConville

By John Fogarty

Oisín McConville believes the GAA’s next step in tackling gambling addiction should be an outright ban on Gaelic players betting on football and hurling.

As GAA Congress looks all but certain to endorse a ban on bookmakers sponsorship in Croke Park this Saturday, the former Armagh star is impressed with how the organisation has moved so quickly on the matter.

In 2016, following lobbying from the GAA, leading bookies agreed to discontinue opening markets for minor matches while last year Congress voted to outlaw players betting on the outcome of games they are involved in.

This latest proposal, which would prohibit sponsorship by a betting company of any GAA competition, team, playing gear or facility, should receive a strong majority of support from delegates. Following last year’s decision, 60% backing will be required for the motion to become rule.

A recovering gambling addict turned counsellor, one local bookmakers’ backing of his club Crossmaglen was a source of awkwardness for McConville, although he was surprised to learn there are only a few such deals across the country.

He believes the GAA’s determination to formulate rules demonstrates how much of a problem gambling has become but is looking at what it can do after this weekend.

“The scourge of gambling among players betting on their own sport is probably the next thing because there is a good bit of that going on. It would leave us in a lot better place. It would certainly make supporters happier because you would always hear murmurings of guys, not just in games they were involved in, but the sport itself.

“I know it’s different for other sports which are professional and therefore it’s easier to police but I think it’s something we should say out loud because if we do say it out loud it can happen.”

McConville appreciates it would be a difficult issue to enforce but his fear is that many players fancy themselves as experts and are therefore likelier to bet often and heavier on sports they are most familiar with — but then there is also the question of inside information.

He also feels the media could take a leaf out of the GAA’s book in terms of banning betting sponsorship.

“I want to be balanced because the argument that you’ll hear is revenue from betting companies is much-needed. Regardless of somebody putting up the odds of a game in a preview, another part of it would be when we listen and watch sports programmes the sponsorships and advertisements during the coverage are predominantly gambling emporiums.

“Sport has found it very easy to alienate itself or get away from the fact that it is being sponsored by drinks companies and the natural progression is that this can happen with gambling companies too.

“What dominates the build-up to sports now is the odds of the two teams or players involved. There is a fine line here because there are people out there who can have a social bet and they are interested in those odds and that doesn’t make them compulsive gamblers and I would be aware of that. There is a fine line between tempering it, making sure our kids are safe and alienating half the population.

“I’ve done debates with Paddy Power and others before and I can understand some of what they are saying but we have opened gambling up to a whole new demographic.

“Gambling is now so prevalent in society that it actually beggars belief. The people who are gambling now, 10 years ago would have had no interest and no access. There are so many more things we can gamble on now and so many more ways how and we’re exposing so many more people to it at a younger age.

“Those who have a gambling problem started gambling fairly early in their lives when they haven’t been able to make an informed decision.”

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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