Skip to main content

The gambling game: Soccer's battle with betting

By Tom McGowan, CNN
July 12, 2012 -- Updated 1513 GMT (2313 HKT)
Former Southampton defender Claus Lundekvam has claimed there was widespread spot-fixing in the English Premier League. Lundekvam told a Norwegian television channel he and fellow players would bet on minor details of games, such as when the first throw-in would be taken.
Former Southampton defender Claus Lundekvam has claimed there was widespread spot-fixing in the English Premier League. Lundekvam told a Norwegian television channel he and fellow players would bet on minor details of games, such as when the first throw-in would be taken.
Lundekvam speaks out
Bohinen's concern
Adams' addiction
  • Latest claims of football gambling put spotlight on English Premier League
  • Former players admit that betting is prevalent and part of team culture
  • Premier League has yet to indicate that it will take any action
  • Players' union says it should address the problem, not the ruling bodies

(CNN) -- Soccer stars have plenty of spare time, and plenty of money, so this week's revelations of players gambling on events during English Premier League matches should come as no surprise.

Claus Lundekvam's claims that "spot-fix" betting was rife when he was a player have attracted the attention of world governing body FIFA, which is also battling against the widespread problem of match-fixing.

The Premier League has a well-documented gambling culture, with big names such as Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney owning race horses and featuring in big-stake "card schools" on international and club duty.

Before them, England internationals Tony Adams and Paul Merson had highly-publicized problems with gambling and alcohol.

Former Southampton player Lundekvam is the latest to talk candidly about footballers' vices, revealing that he and other top-flight stars made money out of betting on minor events in games such as the first throw-in or corner kick.

Swiss court: Former FIFA president took $1.5M in bribes

Kickbacks and cover-ups at FIFA?
FIFA in crisis over bribery scandal
Ex-soccer star discusses betting scam
Euro 2012 'can ease Italy's problems'

"For a while we did this almost every week," Lundekvam told a Norwegian television channel. "We made a fair bit of money. We could make deals with the opposing captain.

"For example, betting on the first throw, the first corner, who started with the ball, a yellow card or a penalty. Those were the sorts of thing we had influence over.

"The results were never on the agenda. That is something I would never have done. We were professional competitors. Even though what we did, of course, was illegal, it was just a fun thing."

Strict regulations and laws govern what professional footballers are able to gamble on, but are football's lawmakers taking the problem seriously enough?

World governing body FIFA released a statement on Wednesday outlining its intention to look into Lundekvam's claims.

"FIFA is monitoring this issue and involved its chief investigator in England," FIFA told CNN. "Once all information is known it will be decided who is leading the investigations."

The Premier League, which recently raised $4.5 billion selling broadcasting rights in Britain, declined to comment on the matter, while the English Football Association gave no indication it would be investigating Lundekvam's claims.

"The FA has strict policies on this and our sanctions are wide-ranging. All participants also have a duty to report any such activity," it told CNN.

"Football works closely with the gambling industry to monitor all markets and activity and we have a unit focused on maintaining the integrity of the sport."

While the allegation of illegal activities within "the beautiful game" is worrying, it also shines a light on another possible parasite eating away at soccer's top players.

Lars Bohinen was an international teammate of Lundekvam's and enjoyed an eight-year Premier League career with Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Derby County.

Eaton talks match fixing in January
How can sport tackle match-fixing?
Arrests in soccer match-fixing probe
Juventus fans hold up three stars to signify the 30 championships won by the club, but two in 2005 and 2006 have been struck off the official records after the "Calciopoli" match-fixing scandal. Juventus fans hold up three stars to signify the 30 championships won by the club, but two in 2005 and 2006 have been struck off the official records after the "Calciopoli" match-fixing scandal.
Controversial celebrations
Juventus revived under president Agnelli Juventus revived under president Agnelli

The former midfielder said he was not aware of any spot-fixing when he played, but he does recall jokes being made about the subject during his time in England.

"One of the examples Claus put forward was that you could bet on the first throw-in," said Bohinen, who retired in 2005.

"I remember we joked about that sometimes, but it was never seriously discussed. It was a rumor which went around at the time.

"I suppose having learned about what's happened it would be naive to think it wasn't there, but I can't say to what extent it was there."

Bohinen did acknowledge that players would bet thousands of pounds on the way to matches.

"It's not well known, but there have been cases," he said. "People could lose £3,000 or £4,000 on a bus trip to London. Obviously that's not the best way to prepare for a game.

"At one of my clubs they put an end to gambling on the bus on the way to away games. I think there are a lot more problems going on than people get to hear about."

The Premier League's highly-paid players have become celebrities, which can make it even harder to admit to a gambling problem when your fans see you as a sporting hero.

"Gambling addiction is not something players talk about ... They would never come out and say that, but you could sense it from the way they gambled on cards, horses and football," Bohinen said.

Many sportsmen suffering from addiction problems have turned to the Sporting Chance Clinic, a charity set up by former England captain Adams.

"The issue may be getting to admit there is a problem in the first place," said a Sporting Chance spokesperson. "If you're talking about footballers, there is a very clear, defined process in place."

The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) -- the union which represents the concerns of players in England and Wales -- refers cases of addiction to Sporting Chance, which offers residential care.

As a union, we're never going to stop players gambling. If you were to put a blanket ban on it you would just drive it underground
PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle

"If you are a professional player at any level, if you are a member of the PFA, there is a huge support network in place which we are part of," said the Sporting Chance spokesperson.

"There is a clear, full process in place which we are almost the culmination of. We get to see what you would almost consider the worst cases."

However, PFA management committee chairman Clarke Carlisle suggested greater regulatory scrutiny raised privacy issues and also threatened to make the problem worse.

"We've not had a survey or a general questionnaire about the gambling habits of the players," said Carlisle, who was part of the Burnley team which played in the Premier League in the 2009-10 season.

"The problem is that gambling calls into question the integrity of a match and of the sport.

"As a union, we're never going to stop players gambling. If you were to put a blanket ban on it you would just drive it underground. That would only serve to put people in a far more precarious position."

Carlise, who went to Sporting Chance when he battled alcoholism, would like to see the clinic given greater resources.

"I think it's an excellent facility and one which needs to expand. It's a perfect setting to get away from the outside influences of what is going on in your life and really focus on addressing your issues," the 32-year-old said.

"In that perfect setting there are people who have an empathy with what is going on in your life, which is the greatest thing anyone can show you."

Carlisle refused to blame the Premier League or the FA for their response to gambling and spot-fixing, saying it is the role of the PFA to understand the needs of footballers.

"You're caught between a rock and a hard place," he said. "I don't think anyone has hit on the solution yet.

"Is it the FA's remit to cure the ills of the individuals within the game? Probably not. It is the PFA's remit to make sure we're aware of the what the lads are going through and the problems they are facing."

Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
After 20 years, more than 300 goals and a host of major honors, Thierry Henry has called time on his glittering football career.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1014 GMT (1814 HKT)
They do things differently at Sociedad Deportiva Eibar, up in the mist-cloaked valleys of the Basque country. And it is working.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
He might be struggling to score goals for Liverpool, but Mario Balotelli's cheeky tweet about the British monarch hit the spot during the World Cup.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
How Real Madrid's new stadium will look
They splash the cash on the world's best players, now Real Madrid are giving the Bernabeu the same treatment with a bling makeover.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Football world mourns South African captain Senzo Meyiwa who was shot and killed during a botched robbery in a township near Johannesburg.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1348 GMT (2148 HKT)
A man as a Roman centurion and who earn his living by posing with tourists gestures in front of the Colosseum during a protest where some of his colleagues climbed on the monument on April 12, 2012 in Rome. The costumed centurions are asking for the right to work there after they were banned following a decision by local authorities.
From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises. But the eyes of the city's newest gladiator light up at thoughts of the Colosseum.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1622 GMT (0022 HKT)
Once part of Germany's largest Jewish sports club, now he's the first ISIS suspect to stand trial in a country left shocked by his alleged radicalization.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1411 GMT (2211 HKT)
One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team -- Mario Balotelli has yet to shine on his English return.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job? What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1247 GMT (2047 HKT)
After 10 years of golden glory, it's easy to see how Lionel Messi has taken his place among the football gods.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
A football fan wipes a tear after Inter Milan's Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti has greeted fans following the announcement of his retirement before the start of the Italian seria A football match Inter Milan vs Lazio, on May 10, 2014, in San Siro Stadium In Milan
When will the tears stop? A leading Italian football club is pursuing a new direction -- under the guidance of its new Indonesian owner.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Norwegian 15-year-old Martin Odegaard is the youngest player ever to feature in a European Championships qualifying match.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
After revolutionizing cricket with its glitzy Twenty20 league, India has now thrown large sums of money at a new football venture.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Get ruthless. That is Rio Ferdinand's message to soccer's authorities in the fight to tackle the scourge of racism.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
A picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows 15-year-old Norwegian footballer Martin Oedegaard of club Stroemsgodset IF cheering during a match in Drammen, Norway. Oedegaard is set to become Norways youngest player ever in the national football team.
He's just 15 and the world is seemingly already at his feet. Norway's Martin Odegaard is being sought by Europe's top clubs.