Almost a quarter of GAA players believe betting a problem within the association
Association and GPA produce guidelines to tackle issue, aimed at club and county
Former Armagh footballer Oisín McConville at the launch of the GAA/GPA Gambling Guidelines at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Almost one quarter of intercounty players believe gambling is a problem within the GAA, and that may just be for starters. The threat of match-fixing or players betting on their own performances is also a growing concern.
What is certain is the GAA aren’t taking any chances, announcing a new set of guidelines related to gambling, aimed at both club and county players, with the assistance of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).
The association have stopped short of introducing regulations or laws prohibiting betting into the Official Guide, but have warned that any improper conduct on the issue can be deemed to have discredited the association, and therefore be punishable by expulsion.
In the most recent survey of the 2,045 current GPA members, 7 per cent of respondents believed gambling was a problem within their own squad; but 23 per cent believed it is a problem amongst GAA players generally.
During 2012, gambling addiction accounted for one-third (33 per cent) of cases dealt with by the GPA’s free counselling service, and this figure is expected to increase this year as awareness grows.
If those figures weren’t alarming enough, they were further magnified by the personal tales of former Armagh footballer Oisín McConville and current Offaly football captain Niall McNamee – both of whom have admitted their gambling problems in the past, and spoke yesterday about the increasing level of the threat within the GAA.
“Gambling is far more accessible than it’s ever been,” warned McConville, “whether on an iPhone, the internet, or whatever it is. So it’s more attractive to more people, and I think more people have more time on their hands in order to gamble too.
“Because of all that we’re going to have more problem gamblers. So any sort of education or discussion around the thing is good.
“I don’t think you can go on a crusade to try and save everybody. It’s about raising awareness, giving people the facts, and then it’s up to people individually to make up their own minds then.
“But one of the more startling facts that I’ve seen this last while is that for every eight people that gamble, one will gamble compulsively.
“And the big issue is that when people begin gambling, I don’t think they’re fully armed with all the facts or pitfalls.
“That’s as much as you can hope for, with the GPA or counselling services or whatever, there is help out there and you can avail of it.
“And I think the first time I walked into gamblers anonymous there were 20 questions and it was the first time I ever got 20 out of 20 in a test.
“That had a serious effect on me, because I realised I was in serious bother. As a result of that I came to my senses.”
McConville also recalled what is was that drew him into gambling in the first place, and why his first piece of advice to any player who thinks that have a gambling problem would be to seek some help:
“For me, it was a simple bet on the Grand National, at 14 years of age. I honestly don’t remember if the horse won or lost. I just know that started my relationship with gambling. It was just like that runaway train and I couldn’t stop it. And I think when you gamble compulsively you will gamble on absolutely anything.
“It’s very easy to say “stop” but you need to have the general mechanisms there. A lot of things have to change within your life but you have to go and get that initial help, whether that be GA or one-to-one counselling, or in-house treatment, whatever it is.”
The threat of match-fixing or players betting on their own performances is something McConville, now a trained counsellor on the issue, also believes the GAA needs to be on high alert for:
“I could walk into a gamblers anonymous meeting and there might be 16 other compulsive gamblers. When I tell them that I never put a bet on my own game, they will snigger, or laugh, and say to me that is not the way compulsive gamblers operate.
“But of course, that is something, down the track, where this sort of thing is going to go, players putting a few pound on themselves to score first goal or something like that. Let’s hope we can nip that in the bud, before it actually happens.”
McNamee agreed the threat of match-fixing or players betting on their own performances can’t be ignored.
“Gambling can bring you to a stage where you’re absolutely desperate,” he said. “I was lucky in that in November 2011 I stopped gambling. I don’t know if I had stayed gambling for another year what would have happened.
“I could have got to that stage where “I need x amount of money, so how am I going to make it?” One thing I can do is something I have control over. If a person gets into that much trouble and they don’t see any way out that could be an option.
“That’s what we’re trying to do here, get people talking. You’re not going to change it overnight. You’re not going to say, ‘Right you’re not allowed gamble on football games anymore if you’re playing’.
“Some people will go to the bookies and have a bet and go home, it’s not problem.
“I think if you keep talking through it you will get to a stage where it won’t be seen as acceptable anymore, and the next generation will come in and it just won’t be an issue. That’d be my hope for it, anyway.”