The game is integrated into soccer.

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It is suspected that Nottingham Forest will have been following the performances of Brentford’s reserve team with a degree of trepidation. There was a 2-2 draw in a friendly against Como and then, last Saturday, a 5-1 win over Southampton Under-23s.

Ivan Toney scored in the first and had a hat trick in the second. B-team football is not Premier League but the suggestion is that the England striker is fit and ready to return after an eight-month suspension for breaching playing regulations.

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Forest may feel that the match schedule has been a little cruel to them. Had they landed in the other half of winter break and played the game this weekend, Toney would not have been available. And this is a pretty crucial game: a six-point game for teams looking a little anxiously over their shoulders and wondering if Luton are better than everyone thought. Why couldn’t they have played against an injury-ravaged Brentford side who have lost five games in a row in the league this weekend?

But that’s treating Toney’s return as a sporting issue, which it is, but it’s also about something much more significant. The reaction when Toney was banned seemed generally sympathetic, as it should be for an addict, apparently reflecting a more general concern about the prevalence of gambling in football.

People will take different moral positions but, in the UK, sports betting is legal. Many people enjoy the game and, for many, sports such as horse and greyhound racing are unimaginable without it. Some people suffer from crippling addiction and deserve support, but just as the existence of alcoholics does not lead to serious calls for a total ban on alcohol, the presence of gambling addicts should not lead to a total ban on gambling.

Apart from anything else, history suggests that betting is impossible to ban, that it will continue despite legislation prohibiting it, and it is not legitimate bookmakers that fix matches or send someone to break the fingers of bettors. debtors.

In a competition that attracts as much gambling as the Premier League, betting, paradoxically, serves as a protection against fixing. Bookmakers have their margins and make money if the sport is fair. Its algorithms recognize suspicious patterns and trigger warnings accordingly, which is what led to the investigation into Oxford United’s FA Cup tie against Arsenal a year ago after unusual amounts of money were placed on a particular player to be reprimanded, although the FA ultimately took no action. .

But that doesn’t mean that everything is fine around betting and football. Numerous investigations have uncovered betting houses that deliberately target vulnerable people, in effect fostering addictions. Cases of dubious foreign betting companies sponsoring clubs through registration in the Isle of Man are a clear problem.

Then there are the problems related to advertising. Especially considering how easy it is to bet online or through an app, an addict should be able to watch sports without constantly being prompted to flutter; No one would think it would be a good idea to wave an open bottle of whiskey in an alcoholic’s nose a couple of times a week. Restrictions on sponsorship, television advertising in the immediate run-up and visible advertising during matches seem reasonable.

Whether that falls within the remit of the proposed football regulator, the Football Association or the Gambling Commission, it is something that requires urgent attention. But that does not exempt the players from responsibility. For football to have an open and regulated relationship with gambling, there has to be strict accountability, and that means lengthy bans for footballers caught betting. Most professions – even journalism – have their codes of conduct; This is just a part of football… and has been for some time.

Toney’s lawyers claimed that it was only when he joined Brentford in September 2020 and watched a video that the striker realized he could be in trouble. Although, given that his cousin was accused of breaching the game’s regulations in 2017 and admitted remembering the FA explaining the rules to him when he was at Peterborough, the commission that imposed the ban concluded that he knew the regulations. Either way, his case should serve as a reminder to players and clubs of how important these regulations are, not only to the integrity of the game but to the perception of integrity.

Whether Toney recognizes it is another question. His complaints about the timing of her case and the length of his ban clash uncomfortably with his insistence that a lesson has been learned and that he takes full responsibility. He also agrees on two occasions that he was filmed disparaging Brentford to create an unflattering image of entitlement.

Toney, at least, has spoken of his gratitude for the way Brentford supported him while he served his ban, strongly implying that he is not planning to move this month. Given that his contract expires in June 2025, he may be different in the summer, but it would seem deeply ungrateful to take eight months’ salary while unavailable due to his own actions and then immediately jump ship when he is available to play again.

Which is good news for Brentford, who were having a reasonable season until Bryan Mbeumo was injured against Brighton in the first of those five consecutive defeats, leaving them with a shortage of attacking options. But it’s probably not good news for Arsenal and Chelsea, two teams seemingly in need of a centre-forward with a proven Premier League goalscoring record who could, practically, have found room to maneuver within profit and sustainability regulations. to afford it. Brentford’s need in the second half of this season, the potential financial repercussions of relegation, will have raised his price to levels almost certainly not worth paying.

And there we go again, inevitably returning to what this means on the field and what it means for the bottom line. Toney’s is a football story, but it also deals with much broader questions about how football interacts with the rest of the world.

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