Fears of AFL ‘tragedy’ as players reveal online abuse
The AFL has been warned it must be accountable for the death threats to players from angry punters as it hauls in tens of millions of dollars a year from sports betting companies.
The AFL receives a slice of every bet made on football matches and also secures $10 million a year from an official partnership with betting company Sportsbet.
Players have this week revealed a torrent of frightening threats because of punters losing bets when they failed to kick a goal or have a set amount of possessions.
Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesman Tim Costello said the AFL's love affair with bulging bookmaker profits had created a "dangerous social situation".
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"The AFL has to change course before there is a tragedy," Costello said.
"We have got a dangerous social situation here - and the AFL are responsible for it."
Bulldogs forward Josh Bruce said he received more than 30 abusive messages based around gambling each weekend, while Adelaide's Taylor Walker said his failure to kick a goal saw him subjected to offensive abuse.
"A few people must have had me in their multi for any time goal scorer," Walker said.
"It's getting to a stage where it's pretty disgusting. Death threats, family threats, comments about kids, comments about the colour of your skin."
The league's $10 million annual windfall from Sportsbet goes into consolidated revenue, with players accessing a share of that money but none of the AFL's revenue from poker machines.
But there are calls for the AFL to do more to educate fans or mount community-based awareness campaigns that would protect players from abuse that seriously threatens their mental health.
Former Collingwood star Travis Cloke told the Herald Sun's Sacked podcast this year he feared a player would self-harm amid the repeated and damaging online abuse.
Costello told the Herald Sun the league had a responsibility to its players as bored fans locked in houses because of COVID turned to sports betting as a distraction.
He said the crisis was being accelerated by the COVID shutdown.
"It's bored young men where the jump in online gambling has come from and it's been a really significant job," he said.
"These threats have to be taken seriously because sports fans with sports betting are actually watching a different game.
"It's now not a game of whether their side wins or not - thanks to the AFL's social engineering it's about whether they have a win on who kicks the first goal.
"Players aren't being watched for their skills but as objects - like greyhounds - for betting.
"And as we know with greyhounds and horses - they get put down if they fail."
30+ minimum abusive messages a week, mainly around gambling. The delete all button gets a good work out without reading - serious problem that would affect younger players / ones with mental health and confidence issues already. 😪— Josh Bruce (@joshuabruce) August 10, 2020
Public announcement!— Mitch Robinson (@MitchRobinson05) August 9, 2020
Not one AFL player gives a flying f*** how we cost you a $100 multi, it’s $5 bet you idiot. If you’re struggling with that amount please don’t punt in the first place. Death threats & “hope you do your ACL next game” I dare say we won’t pay you out either.
Costello said the AFL's decision to quietly extend its monster $10 million-a-year deal with corporate bookmaking giant Sportsbet in January proved the league had lost its right to moral leadership in the community.
"The FA Cup in the UK broke their sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes three years ago. They said, 'This is damaging. We are not handing the sport over'. The AFL did the opposite. They jumped back into bed with foreign bookmakers.
"The AFL has corrupted the sport and now that the players are becoming targets this just has to stop. Surely the AFL can now see the consequences of their greed?
"I call on the AFL to renounce its sports betting partnerships, as the clubs have done with pokies.
"The clubs stood up - it was the AFL that did the wrong thing in their greed.
"And most of the sports betting companies are foreigners - so why for the profits of foreigners are AFL players now getting threats - and our kids are getting targeted and groomed?
"The AFL have interfered and engineered with the culture of the game. Unlike horses and greyhounds, which only ever existed for gambling, footy never did - until now.
"This is social engineering by the AFL - normalising for kids that football is about gambling."
Costello revealed he had written to AFL Commission chairman Richard Goyder to express his concerns at the decision to extend the Sportsbet deal. He never received a reply.
"I was disappointed I didn't get a response," Costello said.