give me back my sport!

Let me take a moment to talk about sport. I love sport. Heck, I live in Melbourne… it’s practically a requirement to love sport in this town! But lately, it hasn’t been so much fun.

In recent years, sports betting has blossomed in this state, and indeed in Australia as a whole. These days, watching the footy means getting the lowdown on the odds for each team, whether you want to or not. Listen to the game on the radio and you’ll hear different odds from competing companies. At any time of day or night you’re subjected to advertising that tells you how one company’s odds or betting products are better than everyone else’s.

Damn it all, I just want to watch the game!

Let me just make one thing clear: gambling on sport was never a problem for me. I didn’t do it when I was actively gambling, and I don’t do it now. And I’m not suggesting we try and get rid of sports wagering (to use the official term); I’m no wowser, and I recognise that there are people who would derive a lot of enjoyment from punting on sport, and could do so responsibly.

But nevertheless, I find it increasingly disturbing that sports wagering has crept into the mainstream and insinuated itself into everyday life.

We now have an embarrassment of choices if we want to bet on sport. Sportingbet. BetChoice. BetEzy. BetFair. Centrebet. Luxbet. Sportsbet. TAB. 888. And that’s just from the first page or so of search results from google! Many, if not all of these offer easy access to online betting as well as phone betting. Most seem to promote responsible gambling and “harm minimisation” techniques, but ultimately, they’re after your dollar and they’ll do what they can to get it.

Whatever happened to enjoying sport for sport’s sake? Where you supported one team over the other because of who you wanted to win, not because they could earn you a buck? Where you weren’t force-fed the odds along with all the other “vital” statistics?

But sport has changed, and I can’t see any way back. Not only do we have an explosion in sports wagering (overall expenditure may be small compared to other forms of gambling, but it’s still closing in on a quarter of a billion dollars a year and growing fast), but we have AFL and NRL teams sponsored by online betting agencies. We have official partnerships between our sport’s governing bodies and these same online betting agencies. We have prime-time advertising that strongly suggests that if you bet with them, you’ll win and win big. And we have a growing number of gaming venues affiliated with sporting clubs across the country.

There’s no point in asking where is it going to end, because it won’t end. Not unless governing bodies like the AFL and the NRL are willing to sever their relationships with betting agencies and stand above them all. Not unless teams are willing to forego the income of gambling dollars from their clubs and their sponsorships.

And that is never going to happen.


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