EGR sits down with Unibet, SEF and Spelfriheten to talk about the prevalence of gambling-related harm in sport and how their current programme aims to educate those in football about the dangers of problem gambling
In January 2020, Kindred Group, via its Unibet brand, signed an agreement with Swedish Elite Football (SEF), which meant that Unibet became the main sponsor for the Allsvenskan and Superettan, the first and second divisions of Swedish football, and the 32 clubs that are part of SEF. This deal aims to allow for long-term collaboration between Unibet and Swedish football.
When the partnership was signed, every professional club was appointed an integrity officer who received dedicated training and was made the person for players to contact if they had any questions about gambling and match-fixing.
Since then, the pair have provided a yearly training course to educate and inform players and coaches about safer gambling and player responsibility.
More recently, the pair have collaborated with education and treatment provider Spelfriheten to visit all the clubs across the top two divisions in Sweden and provide workshops and one-to-one mentoring to teach players and staff members about responsible gambling.
In these club visits, Spelfriheten representatives share their personal experiences of gambling-related harm or being an affected other. In these sessions, there is also a behaviour therapist or psychologist present. Players and coaches are taught the warning signs and how to act if they feel themselves or a teammate are exhibiting these signs.
As of October 2023, 21 clubs in Allsvenskan and Superettan have already completed training, with the trio aiming to visit all of the clubs by the end of the year.
EGR sat down with all three of these industry stakeholders to discuss the issue of problem gambling within sport, how this programme is helping to break the stigma for athletes to hide their potentially harmful gambling habits and what is next for the partnership between Kindred Group and SEF.
Those involved in the Q+A were Anders Falk, strategic sponsorship and PR Manager at Unibet, Anders Wikström, league integrity officer at SEF and Allan Erdman, communications manager for Spelfriheten.
EGR: What were the overall objectives behind this programme upon its inception?
Anders Wikström (AW): Our relationship with Unibet generally has responsible gambling as the main objective. We’ve been working together for a while now and feel that gambling-related harm is a problem in society. Since we are a part of society, we felt it was something we had to do for our players as these experiences might happen to them during their careers.
We have tried to be proactive with this programme to show them the darker side of gambling and help players recognise these behaviours among themselves and their teammates.
Anders Falk (AF): From a Unibet point of view, we have made our efforts to lower the number of at-risk gamblers on our platforms well-known. Our partnership with SEF is the largest in Sweden and within Kindred. When we launched the partnership, we started with digital education for all the players and coaches, and this programme is an evolution of that.
It’s quite the standpoint to travel to all 32 clubs and have these meetings with all the players, and it’s a good platform to speak to them. It’s a good way to highlight that there are problems, and we’re not shying away from them. It is not 100% possible to eliminate the problem, but the more we can highlight it and the more we can do practically, the better it is for our partners and everyone.
EGR: Is the prevalence of gambling addiction in sports, specifically football, more widespread than people are aware of, especially given the recent news around Sandro Tonali and Ivan Toney?
AF: All operators should take that responsibility. The more we can do, whether within football sponsorship or outside, it’s really important. A study by the Karolinska Institute showed that elite football players are more at risk compared to the rest of society. This shows it’s worth putting in the effort, especially if you’re an operator. You should take your chance and make a difference within sports.
Allan Erdman (AE): The problem is also two-fold, as we mentioned that the study showed players might be a bigger risk. But also, as an employer, it’s important to take responsibility because players will feel insecure about their work environment in case they get sold. They don’t want to diminish their value. They’re in a place where they’re more exposed to being named as gamblers and gambling addicts.
EGR: Do you feel the rules around betting and gambling are understood by players, as Toney complained he didn’t understand the rules in England during his FA hearing?
AW: I used to be a player myself. I retired in 2015, and you didn’t understand the rules back then. That is why, in this partnership with Unibet, we said that one of the objectives was to go out to players and inform or educate them so no one will ever be able to say they don’t know the rules. Now thanks to the information and education we are providing everyone is aware of the rules. Despite this, we need to continually do these courses to bring the new players up to speed.
AF: Every year since 2020, we have done this digital education, and every team has to go through it each year and have 100% clearance. By doing it every year, we can teach those young and new players about responsible gambling.
EGR: Do programmes such as this improve the public perception of gambling sponsorships within sport?
AW: No matter if we had a betting partner or not, there will still be issues in our dressing rooms. Instead of working without a partner, we rather work with a gambling firm to try and address the problems and help people before they experience harm. There will always be gambling. Gambling has been around for hundreds of years, and if we prohibit it, there will still be gambling. We would rather work with a partner, which in this case is Unibet, to help those who are going down a path towards gambling harm.
AF: We share that view very strongly. If we are going to be a sponsor, then we should take responsibility for our industry, but it’s not just down to us. It’s our competitors as well who should do the same. We can see in some of the sponsorships, like what Svenska Spel is now doing, and the more the industry bounces off each other, the better it is for everyone.
AE: Cooperation like this shows that you can make a difference. Unibet and the SEF are doing something that matters. They spotted a problem and are trying to fix it; this kind of cooperation raises the bar, and you also get a valuable outcome.
EGR: Can this type of programme be more widespread across Europe, and should governing bodies like UEFA and FIFA work with gambling firms to support clubs and players?
AW: Our approach has been if we can do it, and if it works, we would love if others copied and did it, but it’s up to them. We would like to support other sports, even in Sweden, if they need assistance. We need to talk about this issue, as it is a problem not just in sport but in society as well.
We need to address this on a bigger scale. When you hear stories like Toney, who say they don’t know the rules, they need to know what can happen if they don’t have gambling under control. I think we are doing that so that our players and coaches have a better understanding of the gambling industry and the bad sides of it as well.
AE: We have already had other sports contacting us to talk about this programme as they are seeing what we are doing with Unibet and SEF. This kind of partnership is at the forefront of what we want to do. It is important to do it as broadly as possible to include as many people as we can. This is why we have open communication about what we are doing because we are helping people, and that’s what we want to do.