Brentford’s star striker Ivan Toney has been handed an 8 month ban from the FA for breaching betting rules. He is by no means the first player to face sanctions for breaking the rules, last year Kieran Trippier was given a 10 week ban and Joey Barton was given an 18 month ban (reduced to 13 months) back in 2017.
Along with the ban Toney also received a £50,000 fine. While the FA is yet to release the details of the breaches that took place between 2017 and 2021 it is expected that a significant number of bets were placed over the prolonged period.
It is expected that Toney will appeal but as things stand he will be unable to play for Brentford again until the second half of next season, 17th January 2024. He will be allowed to train with the club, however, from 17th September. The ban will also apply to national team duties, meaning he will not be called up to the England squad until 2024 at the earliest, something that could damage his international career before it has barely started. It will also preclude a big money sale to a top 6 club in the summer.
Few will disagree that there are clear rules in place for professional players when it comes to betting and that Toney will have known these rules. The fact players have been banned in the past too means he can not see this latest sanction as disproportional, although, it is worth noting that Eric Cantona got only one additional month in his ban, 9 months, when he kicked a fan in the face all those years ago. Is Toney’s misdemeanour in a similar category to that incident?
Football Authorities Have Double Standards
If you read the news around Toney’s ban you see an image of him playing in a Brentford shirt that is sponsored by Hollywood Bets. Along with this Toney spent a significant amount of time in his early career playing in the EFL, which is currently sponsored by Sky Bet. This absolutely stinks of double standards and many feel football authorities and clubs should shoulder some of the blame here.
While Premier League clubs have voluntarily agreed to end front of shirt gambling sponsorships from the 2025/26 season it is a fact that gambling still permeates all areas of football. Even with the front of shirt ban clubs will still be able to have betting partners, possibly sleeve adverts and of course adverts on the hoardings around the pitch.
This is a difficult circle to square for most people. Football especially has normalised gambling among fans, younger fans in particular, and many feel it normalises gambling for football players too, in spite of the fact the rules say they can’t partake in it. Brentford themselves have a gambling sponsor on the front of their shirts. This is something Ivan Toney and other players will see every single day, yet they themselves are banned from using such products.
The current climate makes it very difficult for clubs and authorities to balance the argument that players cannot bet and should receive significant bans for betting while the clubs and leagues themselves make hundreds of millions collectively from sponsorships. Indeed, part of the sponsorships involve the clubs and players doing promotional activities for the very gambling brands they cannot use.
Betting Breaches Similar Level To Physical Violence?
As I mentioned in the introduction the ban that Toney has received is a similar length of time to the ban Cantona received for kicking a fan in the face back in January 1995.
Joey Barton received an 18 month ban for betting breaches, reduced to 13 on appeal, but only faced a 3 match ban and fine for stubbing a cigar out in another players eye.
It seems that the FA is suggesting that gambling is as bad if not worse than assault in football. That is hard to justify when the clubs themselves are promoting these brands and receiving millions from them in sponsorship.
This isn’t to say that Toney shouldn’t be banned and fined. While the exact breaches have not been released there were 262 incidents cited in the original charge, with 30 of those removed making 232 in the end. This also took place over a nearly four year period, acknowledging the fact that this was a prolonged and serious breach.
Even taking that into account it is hard to see how football can justify sanctions that are in line with, if not bigger, than sanctions for physical violence. It seems that football in general will now need to reflect on its relationship with gambling and authorities need to accept a portion of the blame.
If clubs themselves were docked points, fined or had to play behind closed doors, etc., then it would perhaps make those clubs less likely to promote gambling brands themselves. It seems the days of football both having its cake and eating it are numbered.