Sports bodies to tackle online betting

Major sporting organisations have been urged to tackle the “scourge” of online gambling amid fears that a growing number of younger players are becoming hooked.

Sports Minister Patrick O’Donovan called on the FAI, IRFU, and Olympic Council of Ireland to draw up concrete proposals as he warned of a gambling epidemic among GAA stars which is spreading to other sports.

In recent months a series of high-profile cases involving Galway hurler Davy Glennon and Shelbourne soccer player Craig Walsh’s drugs and gambling addiction and others have shone the spotlight on the problem.

In some cases, players are facing debts of more than €80,000, with others struggling to cope with crippling financial problems.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr O’Donovan accepted the problem is not yet at crisis point and that organisations such as the GAA’s Gaelic Players Association — which helped up to 74 players with gambling addictions last year — are providing supports to those in need.

However, he stressed other sporting organisations must follow suit if they want to protect athletes and the futures of their own games.

“There is a scourge that is gambling within our inter-county GAA players, especially inter-county but within men and women involved in all sport. I would call it a scourge of online gambling,” he said.

“I hear an awful lot of it, in terms of young fellas I see at home, they get wound up inside of it and they can’t get out of it. I don’t know how much of it is betting on themselves or betting against themselves, but look, we’ve had a couple of high-profile people who’ve come out and spoken about their experiences, and they’re harrowing. Society is going to have to come to terms with this,” said Mr O’Donovan.

Asked about what action is needed, Mr O’Donovan said he wants the GAA, FAI, IRFU and Olympic Council of Ireland to outline early in the new year how they are tackling addiction and mental health issues among players.

“I want to sit down with everybody just to see what they’re offering, in terms of how they’re proposing to deal with this. People in sport need to be able to see the tell-tale signs with their own colleagues,” he said.

A 2015 joint study by UCD and the Department of Social Protection found as many as 40,000 people have a gambling addiction, with as much as €5bn spent on events every year. However, after a number of high-profile players went public with their problems, the extent to which gambling had spread among inter-county and club players began to emerge.

In 2012, Offaly footballer Niall McNamee admitted he owed €80,000 to bookies at various points in recent years as he asked for help to deal with his addiction. Earlier this year Galway hurler Davy Glennon told the Irish Examiner of his battle with a similar private crisis.

In 2015, former Armagh football star Óisín McConville revealed he became “suicidal” after fighting “compulsive” gambling for 16 years, while Shelbourne player Craig Walsh said his 12-month ban for cocaine use was due to an obsession with online gambling.

Earlier this month, Galway’s GAA county chairman and former Fianna Fáil government minister Noel Treacy said there is a “serious gambling problem bedeviling our association at player level” and that “players are reporting to us with serious gambling addiction problems”.

His view followed similar comments by outgoing GPA chairman Dessie Farrell, who earlier this year revealed the organisation helped 74 GAA players with hidden gambling problems in 2015.

All individuals have called for greater supports to be made available by officials governing their sports.

Editorial: 14


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