Brendan Rodgers has urged footballers struggling with gambling addictions to open up about their problems.
The Celtic manager’s advice comes as the Football Association (FA) banned Burnley midfielder Joey Barton from playing for 18 months for placing 1,260 bets on matches between March 2006 and May 2013.
At 34, Barton, who was also fined £30,000, believes the ban will effectively end his career and has said he will appeal against its length.
“I think what is key for players, and staff, is to lift the burden and speak about it,” Rodgers, a Catholic, told the BBC. “For men, it can be deemed a weakness to talk about it.
“The truth is, it’s not, indeed, it’s anything but.”
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, Sports Chaplain and CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, explained that admitting any weakness, such as an addiction, is always a big challenge.
“My more than 47 years of priesthood have made it all too clear that gambling – when not controlled – is a life-destroying addiction,” he told The Universe.
“Young players with time on their hands and suddenly with vast sums of money in their bank accounts are especially vulnerable,” he warned.
“They need to talk about addiction before it gets a deep grip on their life-style, which is not easy.
“Football has a sharp macho-culture,” he explained. “Admitting any weakness is a massive challenge.”
Mgr Felzmann has called on managers to take responsibility for supporting players who are battling with such addictions.
“Managers – and older, more mature players – need to encourage their younger squad-members to seek help,” he said.
Rodgers, who said he had encountered “a number of incidents” with players with gambling problems, is one of those managers leading by example.
“If there are problems with gambling for some players, which I’ve come across during my career, it’s trying to help and educate them that there’s a better way,” he said. “If you lift the burden and speak about it, you’ll find there are a lot of people who can help you find the solutions to it, which will help you and your family.”
However, for those players who would prefer to speak about their addiction with someone other than a manager or fellow teammate, Mgr Felzmann suggested talking to a sports chaplain.
“An increasing number of football clubs – let alone rugby clubs and horse-racing establishments – have recruited the help of sports chaplains, recruited and monitored by Sport Chaplaincy UK (SCUK) who, working with teams’ psychologists, offer a less threatening emotional environment,” he said. However, Rodgers believes that it is also the player’s responsibility.
“You have a choice,” he said. No-one’s asking anyone to go and gamble. “
Rodgers also pointed out that there are benefits to the game through the support of betting companies who “provide money and do a good service somewhere along the line”.
However, Mgr Felzmann takes a different stance on the issue.
“The vast sums of money in sport – especially in the Premier Division – have much to answer for,” he said. “Its destructive dimensions need to be admitted and assuaged.”
This weekend’s Premier League fixtures:
Friday 5th May
West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur – 8:00pm
Saturday 6th May
Manchester City v Crystal Palace – 12:30pm
Bournemouth v Stoke City – 3:00pm
Burnley v West Bromwich Albion – 3:00pm
Hull City v Sunderland – 3:00pm
Leicester City v Watford – 3:00pm
Swansea City v Everton – 5:30pm
Sunday 7th May
Liverpool v Southampton – 1:30pm
Arsenal v Manchester United – 4:00pm
Monday 8th May
Chelsea v Middlesbrough – 8:00pm
Picture: Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and Scott Brown at full time after the William Hill Scottish Cup Semi Final match at Hampden Park, Glasgow. Brown’s Celtic shirt displays the logo of sponsors Dafabet, an online gambling company. (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images).