It might be too easy to say that football is big business now. Most would agree, even me. but where did we all sign up for the business is business, anything goes' kind of thinking that results in football clubs encouraging people to drink alcohol, eat fast food and indulge in high-octane gambling.
Products from each of these categories are visible on our TVs, computer screens, and newspapers every day as intrinsic parts of images of Scottish football.
The two most filmed and pictured teams (Celtic and Rangers) are both now sponsored by online gambling companies. Celtic having recently switched from an alcoholic drink brand. Hibernian too promote online gambling on their shirt fronts.
The early season cup competition for league clubs is now sponsored by, and has been renamed as the cup of, another online betting company.
Our very own Scottish Football Association chose, or was chosen by, a fast food company as the sponsor for their work in encouraging more youth into football.
Televised matches are now peppered with adverts for gambling, though Big Ray Winston reminds us that he gambles responsibly. So that’s alright then.
I don’t know when all this started, but when we stop and look around, and see stories about players being disciplined for betting on games that they are involved in, or about players whose lives have been ruined by a gambling habit, I can’t help thinking of the hypocrisy on show. Within inches of those stories will be pictures containing adverts for the very online gambling companies that encourage anyone watching to place bets on an increasingly imaginative range of footballing outcomes.
We have some of the strictest laws in the world relating to alcohol consumption at, around, or on the way to football matches. Yet we allow teams to boldly promote drinking alcohol, though presumably, only long before or after the match they are watching. Again, the hypocrisy, is almost shocking.
You don’t have to look far to find stories of how excessive consumption of junk food leads to serious nutritional, dental, and medical problems for children. So, naturally, the main sponsor of the SFAs flagship youth participation and coaching programme is the world’s best known fast food company. Words fail to adequately describe the sheer craziness of this situation. Hypocrisy is simply not a big enough accusation to level at it.
Football is our national game. We consistently have the highest proportion of our population watching live games in the world. The game belongs to the people, and the people should be able to look upon their favourite sport and be inspired by role models. There has been much talk about sporting integrity in recent years. That is a good thing, of course. But while demanding integrity in relation to the eligibility of players, how they are rewarded, and whether clubs pay their tax bills, we seem happy to turn a blind eye to the lack of moral integrity on show on the front of the shirts of the players we hold in such high esteem.
Most of the teams in Scotland are sponsored by companies’ local to their stadiums; companies selling everything from legal services, to transport and plumbing. The money may not be so good, but it promotes a sense of community and allows for individual creativity. Witness the McEwan Fraser inspired games between dozens of kids against the first teams of Dundee and Dundee United.
Perhaps the most inspiring sponsorship deals of all is the one struck by Hearts. A group of Hearts supporting businessmen came up with the idea of combining charitable giving with the sponsorship of their favourite team. They put up a fund and in return for wearing the name of ‘Save the Children’ on their shirts, Hearts receive half the money available. The charity receives the other half, and of course, any donations arising from the free advertising of their brand. Everyone is happy and Hearts fans have what will surely become a series of iconic shirt designs for many decades to come.
My wish is that Scottish Football and individual member clubs will take the moral high ground and agree to remove any advertising for alcohol or gambling from the game in Scotland. I would like to see them do this before the Scottish Government passes legislation banning it, as it surely will, in time. Think cigarettes in the 60s and 70s. If shirt sponsorship had been a thing then, how many teams would have had ‘Players’ or ‘Embassy No6’ emblazoned across their tops?
As for the SFA and McDonalds, what are you doing?
Article by Andrew Keith