Words by James Grimes, Founder of The Big Step
During a Euro 2020 press conference this week, Cristiano Ronaldo removed two perfectly placed bottles of Coca Cola and encouraged viewers to drink water instead.
It felt like a watershed moment and was replicated by Paul Pogba, who, as a practicing devout Muslim, moved a carefully placed bottle of Heineken before proceeding with his interview. Ronaldo alone has 300 million followers on Instagram – more than every UK-based gambling company and Coca Cola combined.
As a lifelong fan like many others, it’s obvious that football sold itself to corporate interests long ago, but Ronaldo’s simple act of defiance feels like it has punctured the status quo even to a cynic like me, whilst simultaneously showcasing player power by wiping billions off the market value of Coca Cola.
We have become so accustomed to the nauseating amount of advertising in football that perhaps we needed such a visual disruption to make us realise how ludicrous the current situation has become.
But why aren’t footballers making the same stand against gambling companies?
Ronaldo himself is an ambassador for betting companies in Africa – where regulation is soft and addiction is rife. Paul Pogba plays for Manchester United, which advertises YaboSports, an Asian gambling site, around the pitch at Old Trafford. Gambling, like drinking alcohol, is forbidden by Islam.
Gambling harm affects 1 in 4 gamblers in the UK, with millions at risk or already addicted and hundreds taking their own lives each year. Meanwhile, the gambling industry is extracting billions from the pockets of ordinary football fans under the guise of ‘a bit of a fun’.
The fun has well and truly stopped. Now is the time for footballers to take a step back and see the harm gambling causes to the young fans that adore them. The events of this week have shown that the influence and power football has – if moving a bottle has caused a reaction of this scale, you can only imagine the positive impression a player refusing to wear a kit sponsored by a gambling brand would have.
Gambling advertising in football is a threat to my recovery and I am not alone.
It is safe to assume that I’m joined by hundreds of thousands of people in this country. We are trying everything in our power not to gamble but are being told to bet every single time we watch a football match on TV, check social media, listen to the radio or put on a podcast.
Sadly, some of these people will relapse. Tragically, some will die as a result of their gambling addiction.
Now is the time for footballers, including Cristiano Ronaldo, to make a stand and refuse to endorse gambling.