London (AFP) – Burnley midfielder Joey Barton’s betting on football matches should be put into context in that he broke the rules of football but it was not matchfixing, Bill South director of security at leading English bookmakers William Hill told AFP.
Barton — who throughout his stormy career has never been far from controversy — received a potentially career-ending 18 month suspension from the Football Association (FA) last week for admitting to placing 1,260 bets on football matches between 2006 and 2016.
“Quite often the headline is matchfixing and when you look underneath it is someone betting in contravention of a rule,” South told AFP after appearing on a panel at the International Sports & Football Betting Trade Conference in London.
“Those are serious issues because it impinges on the integrity of that sport but it is not fixing a game.
“Joey Barton was not fixing games he was breaking an FA rule on betting.
“Fixing a game involves fraud and is a criminal offence and we have to be really clear in distinguishing between the two.”
However, South, who served in the Cambridgeshire Police Constabulary for 23 years often heading up intelligence-led operations, said regardless of it not being a criminal offence the 34-year-old — capped once by England — should assume responsibility for his actions.
– ‘Accept the consequences’ –
Barton, who began the season with Scottish side Rangers before a training ground bust-up led to his contract being terminated prematurely but Burnley signed him despite the charges over betting hanging over him, issued a 1,500 word statement taking issue with the “harshness of the sanction” and blaming his addiction to gambling.
“The FA quite reasonably drew their conclusions as a result of the investigation and they are in the public domain,” said South.
“They have explained why and you have to accept that they are charged with the responsibility for governing that sport.
“I would use the analogy that if you own a car and you speed and you get caught you pay a penalty and get points on your licence.
“You don’t blame the car manufacturer for designing a car that can exceed the speed limit.
“It feels to me sometimes that when something happens it’s everyone’s fault except that individual who has actually broken the rule or done something they know they shouldn’t have done.
“We all live in a world of personal responsibility and the consequences of doing something wrong belong to the individual who committed those errors.”
South, who after leaving the police and prior to joining William Hill 11 years ago set up the intelligence unit for the then governing body of racing the Jockey Club, said Barton’s description of his childhood upbringing could perhaps explain how he became addicted to gambling.
“He is providing mitigation and context,” said South, who points out that betting is a legal activity enjoyed by thousands of people daily.
“Barton goes to great pains to explain how betting was part of his childhood.
“That’s him explaining the context and it is not necessarily for us to judge him.
“You should though accept the consequences if you knew what you have done as in this case was wrong, but he was articulating his mitigation in the public domain.
“Also pointing the finger of blame at any particular governing body or betting operator is a very simplistic way of looking at the issue.
“It is more complex than that.”
However, with footballers able to circumvent the rules and bet through surrogates South does admit the regulations may need to be looked at again.
“I would make the observation if you put a rule in place you need to be able to enforce it,” said South.
“If you think a substantial amount of people are breaching the regulation and you are not able easily to identify them and education doesn’t appear to be getting home and the sanctions in place aren’t having the desired effect then perhaps you need to be cognisant that you can’t police it.”
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