North-east hosts biggest-ever Big Step campaign walk
More than 40 people harmed by gambling – including bereaved families – took to the streets of the north-east in a final push to persuade the government to end gambling sponsorship in football ahead of the imminent Gambling Act review whitepaper.
They walked over 40 miles from Newcastle to Middlesbrough on March 24 and 25 via the region’s three biggest football clubs – Newcastle United FC, Sunderland AFC, and Middlesbrough FC – all of which have gambling firms as front-of-shirt sponsors.
“The sad reality is that it’s impossible to watch a football match in England’s top five leagues without seeing a gambling advert. The shirts, stadiums, and screens are saturated with reminders to bet – something so many of us are trying everything in our power not to do.”Joe Clarkson, in recovery from gambling addiction
The walkers, including local football fans, are urging the government to end these deals and asked the clubs to listen to their experiences ahead of the walk. Unfortunately, none of the clubs chose to engage. It was The Big Step’s 11th and largest in-person walk, with previous events also allowing people to join remotely.
The group set off from Newcastle United, which has the joint-most gambling partners in the Premier League, including Parimatch, a firm sanctioned by Ukraine for “financing Russian schemes”, and shirt sponsor Fun88, which reportedly has links with organised crime in Asia. The first stop was Gateshead FC, where Ian Mearns MP, Chair of the Football Supporters APPG, met walkers to give his support to the campaign.
Sunderland’s shirt sponsor, Spreadex, was fined £1.36 million last year for social responsibility failures including allowing one customer to deposit £1.7 million and lose £500,000 in the space of a month. Earlier this season a 15-year-old Sunderland player, Chris Rigg, made his debut wearing a gambling-sponsored shirt, showing how children playing senior football can advertise products they aren’t legally allowed to use.
The walk finished at the Riverside Stadium, home of Middlesbrough FC, which has 32Red as a shirt sponsor. Just last week, 32Red was fined by the Gambling Commission for social responsibility failings including allowing one customer to deposit £43,000 and lose £36,000 within seven days.
Up to 1.44 million people are addicted to gambling in the UK and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) estimates there are up to 496 gambling-related suicides each year in England alone.
The much-delayed Gambling Act review whitepaper, first announced in 2019, is expected in the coming weeks. Campaigners hope a raft of measures will be included to make gambling less harmful, including advertising restrictions, affordability checks and stake limits on addictive online slot and casino games.
“This is the government’s last chance to get the whitepaper right and ensure young fans can follow their heroes without being encouraged to gamble.”James Grimes, formerly addicted to gambling and founder of The Big Step campaign
Joe Clarkson, in recovery from gambling addiction and once an avid Sunderland fan, said:
“I went to my first game at Roker Park in 1995 and for many years I was completely obsessed with Sunderland Football Club. However, after gambling addiction took over my life, I fell out of love with the game.
“The sad reality is that it’s impossible to watch a football match in England’s top five leagues without seeing a gambling advert. The shirts, stadiums, and screens are saturated with reminders to bet – something so many of us are trying everything in our power not to do.”
James Grimes, formerly addicted to gambling and founder of The Big Step campaign:
“We are supported by hundreds of thousands of people who’ve signed petitions against gambling ads in football and we hope our government will do what many European countries have done and kick gambling ads out of football at every level – this walk shows this is not a problem just in the Premier League.
“This is the government’s last chance to get the whitepaper right and ensure young fans can follow their heroes without being encouraged to gamble.”
Find out more about The Big Step here.