Following the UK governments long-awaited release of the Gambling Act White Paper, UK athletes are set to gain the right to oppose wearing any sporting apparel that showcases a gambling sponsor. 

This is mainly due to athletes who observe religious beliefs which oppose gambling of any form, with the White Paper highlighting that any “adults who have religious or health reasons object to wearing gambling sponsors”. 

This fell under the reviews list of ‘example principles’ as it aims to address the Gambling Act 2005. The decade-and-a-half old legislation is viewed as outdated and needs new parameters to better protect problem gamblers, as the White Paper reveals that “300,000 people are estimated to be experiencing problem gambling”. 

Sport, in particular football, has had a long-storied history with gambling and its firms, with many gambling-related TV adverts appearing during football broadcasts, something that has been called upon by lobbyists for a ‘whistle to whistle’ ban. 

Now the proposals have reached out to better protect athletes’ religious beliefs which will help those, for example, who are of Muslim faith as Islam forbids any form of gambling. 

In January 2020, New Zealand rugby league player Sonny Bill Williams, during his short stint at Super League team the Toronto Wolfpack, refused to wear the team’s jersey as it had a gambling sponsor on it, coming into conflict with his Muslim beliefs. 

The Wolfpack and the Super League, which is primarily sponsored by Betfred, respected Williams’ stance and he ultimately only played five games for Toronto before the Super League side had to withdraw on his $10m contract due to financial reasons in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The efforts to help better protect athletes like Williams may not become part of the proposed new codes for the reformed Gambling Act but the proposal is highlighted to make “meaningful improvements” for the gambling industry to become ‘more socially responsible’.  

The White Paper outlines: “Overall, indirect exposure to gambling marketing around sport is high, including among children, and can be particularly challenging for those already suffering gambling-related harms. 

“We are challenging the sports and esports sectors and the industry to set a high standard for social responsibility, with the potential not only to improve standards in gambling sponsorship but also to provide a model for responsible sponsorship by other sectors.”

Conversely, Premier League clubs recently agreed upon a new ban on front-of-shirt gambling sponsorship that will come into effect for those clubs currently holding  gambling sponsorship deals following the 2025/26 season. 

This landmark voluntary ban made the Premier League one of the first UK competitions to introduce a comprehensive ban on gambling sponsorship, but does not include a ban on shirt sleeve sponsorships, which could still come into conflict with players of muslim faith. 

The English Football League (EFL), who’s title sponsor is SkyBet, released a statement in regards to the White Paper findings who ‘welcome’ the gambling review and its proposals. 

“Having submitted evidence to the Gambling Act Review, the EFL welcomes the long-awaited publication of the white paper which offers an updated vision for gambling regulation in this country,” stated an EFL Spokesperson. 

“It is the league’s long-held view that it is for government to determine what is the appropriate regulatory framework for the UK’s gambling sector, and while sports partnerships are just one small part of this white paper’s scope, its publication will help organisations determine how they can continue to work with responsible gambling operators moving forward.”

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