Meetings & Information


Sunday, December 22, 2013

In the U.S., we're not even talking about gambling addiction and sports

PFA Scotland communications chief Jack Ross reveals about 40 players are now getting help for their gambling addictions

FORMER Falkirk and St Mirren defender insists betting is a major problem and is having a detrimental effect on mental health of too many footballers.


Jack Ross talks about gambling to Hugh Keevins
Jack Ross talks about gambling to Hugh Keevins


JACK ROSS has had two works of fiction published for the children’s book market.
But he deals in the hard facts of life in his day job with PFA Scotland.

And that’s why the former Falkirk and St Mirren defender turned union representative won’t be supporting the idea of “Have a bet Saturday” floated by ex-Albion Rovers manager Jimmy Lindsay in Record Sport this week.

Ross has spent the past three years trying to educate players on the pitfalls of getting involved in betting on football.

And he can’t go along with a casual acceptance of gambling as an integral part of the game in Scotland.

Not when he watches one player being counselled on his betting addiction inside the union’s offices on a weekly basis.

Not when he knows there are approaching 40 other players being helped through their gambling issues by Andy Todd, the union’s gambling service manager.

And not when he’s spent the last 12 months working to help set up a programme involving the Scottish Association for Mental Health which will deal with players affected by the emotional problems arising from their gambling difficulties.

The issue came to the fore this season when Rangers star Ian Black was found guilty of betting on 140 matches, including games involving his own team.

Now Ross is involved with prominent players who have agreed to talk on camera for an educational film being prepared by the union to hammer home the point gambling isn’t acceptable simply on the grounds everybody does it.

“We have a duty of care aspect attached to our work,” he said. “And we, the players’ representatives, can’t deny our responsibilities where they’re concerned.

“The challenge before us is to educate players on what they could be throwing away if they get involved in betting on football.

“And there is a direct correlation between the dangers of gambling addiction turning into the creation of mental health issues prompted by stress and strain.

“When I go to speak to players at their clubs I begin by telling them as an ex-pro I understand they don’t want to sit and listen to me preach at them.

“And I don’t put myself up on a pedestal as a paragon of virtue who has never had a bet on football.

“I put on the occasional football coupon when I was starting out at Dundee but didn’t know the rules as they related to betting back then.
RANGERS midfielder Ian Black arrives the SFA headquarters at Hampden Park to hear the outcome of a fine for breaching betting rules. pictured with Barry Hughs Photo Tony Nicoletti
Ian Black (right) leaves Hampden with agent, Barry Hughes, after being
banned for breaching betting rules

Tony Nicoletti/Daily Record

“Now my job is to tell the players there’s never been a more difficult time to have a lengthy career in Scottish football.

“And to warn them they shouldn’t risk their prospects of longevity in the game by getting caught up in gambling and the worries that can accompany having a bet.

“Worries created by gambling have the power to impact on a player’s ability to perform at his best on the park.

“And a player’s mental condition is as important as his physical fitness. When focus is deflected away from the game because you have a worry like a gambling addiction it means careers might not develop as they would’ve done under normal circumstances.

“And in some cases they can be derailed altogether.

“The ultimate aim for us is to be in a position where we can offer access to clinical assistance for players who need it.

“But it’s going to take funding if the union is to be able to offer psychological support.”

The ordinary fan might read what Ross has to say and feel dismayed at talk of emotional problems, psychological support and counselling services.

Players just go out and play and the only things they worry about are form, results and whether their wages are in the bank. Isn’t that supposed to be the case?

Not in Ross’s experience.

He added: “People on the outside looking in at football think players are a privileged part of a profession to be envied and they’re right.

“But when gambling becomes a problem or new careers become a lifestyle transition when football is over as a living it’s like falling off a cliff in the emotional sense.

“That’s why it can be annoying when people say the union doesn’t do enough to look after its members.

“We are putting support mechanisms in place, whether it’s to do with gambling, addiction, mental health or our anti-doping programme.”

When Ross was 18 years old his apprenticeship in the game was abruptly ended when Dundee released him.

His next four years were spent playing junior football with Lochee United and Camelon, doing a degree in economics at university and generally growing up.

“Emotionally I was stung by what happened at Dens Park,” he said. “I had to rediscover my appetite for the game as well as my belief in myself as a player.

“But the junior game, when I was in dressing rooms with everyone from labourers to people who ran their own successful businesses, matured me as a person and I was ready to go back to the senior game when I was 22.

“I probably had a bet or two then as well but I was never that fussed. I did it because others did, I suppose.

“But it’s different for young players now because accessibility to betting concerns is so vast.

“My generation literally walked into a bookies office to put on coupons or whatever. Today you can do it via your mobile telephone or go online.

“But the game’s rules with regard to gambling on matches are very clearcut and ignorance is no defence. If you don’t know those rules by now you never will and that applies to managers and chairmen as well as players.”

Ross is disappointed when players claim to be uncertain of what the rule book says or not to have understood his message when he visited their club on an instructional basis three weeks ago.
Michael Moffat is facing a betting probe

Particularly when the player who publicly expressed his uncertainty over Ross’s message, Ayr United’s Kevin Kyle, didn’t actually attend the meeting he was referring to.

Now another Ayr player, Michael Moffat, has been issued a notice of complaint by the SFA’s compliance officer Vincent Lunny for betting on matches, including six games involving his own team.

None of those bets were placed on Ayr to lose.

All of which leaves Ross cold.

He said: “The rule book makes no distinction between betting on your team or backing against them.

A breach of the gambling rules is a breach either way.

“If players bet on any matches they run the risk of being caught and can have no complaint.

“But we’ve had calls to our office sympathising with Michael over the random nature of singling out individual players for investigation when the problem is so widespread.

“But the bottom line is we have to treat the game properly.

“My greatest frustration is when people call for us to put educational programmes in place and I know I’ve been involved in doing that since 2010.

“It was PFA Scotland who had the foresight to realise what was going on and instinctively knew how to go about addressing the situation.

“We’re not looking for sympathy. We’re doing our job and we know everyone might not want to take the information we’re offering on board.

“I sometimes study the body language of the players I’m talking to on my visits to clubs and the impression I get is they don’t want to look as if they’re interested in what I’m saying in case they get criticised by their team-mates.

“But we’re dealing with an important issue. Commercially speaking, this is a difficult time for Scottish football and we have to protect the game’s reputation.

“And what effect do these gambling stories have on parents who might be concerned about their children starting out on a career in the professional game?

“It isn’t possible for PFA Scotland to eradicate betting entirely but we can raise awareness of the problem.

“And we can’t treat that problem flippantly by talking about ‘Have a bet Saturday’ because gambling can lead to match fixing if players get into financial difficulties and make themselves vulnerable in the eyes of those who would try to take advantage of them.”

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