When my team, Essendon, were knocked out in the first week of the finals I declared my hope for a Melbourne versus Bulldogs Grand Final. My friends laughed and said that was too fairytale-like, yet here we are. I have some other dreams too for the AFL too.
My paternal grandfather was a lifelong Bulldogs supporter who attended every game. He was born and worked his whole life in Footscray. I will be supporting the Bulldogs on Saturday in his honour. As hard as I will be cheering for the Bulldogs, like most footy fans I won’t be disappointed if the Demons end the Norm Smith curse resulting from his sacking as coach in 1965.
As painful as it is to have to watch two deserving Melbourne teams battle out the Grand Final in Perth, there is a darker shadow hanging over this Saturday that hurts me even more. That pain is caused by the inevitable tsunami of gambling ads that will define this game and sear into young minds that sport is brought to them as a gift of a predatory adult industry.
This corruption of young minds began on Sunday night with the Sportsbet Brownlow medal. I normally love the Brownlow count, but I was outraged. I thought to myself “No supporter would these days accept a cigarette or alcohol company bringing us the Brownlow or sponsoring the AFL, yet Sportsbet gets away with it”. The advertising of these harmful adult products is not permitted during the 6.00 pm news, but the gambling industry is able to sponsor sports updates within the news.
Parents are often warned to protect their children from exposure to adult products on social media and the like, yet there is not a single thing they can do if they want to sit down and watch the game with their kids. Whether the Brownlow or any match including the Grand Final it is on free to air television with the ads blaring up to five minutes before the game starts, and then during the breaks between quarters. Parents would have to lead their children into a cave to protect them.
The primary ethical job for parents in life is to protect their children, yet the AFL is undermining parents and the family with advertisements for an adult product that literally grooms children to become gamblers. Too many ten-year-olds know the logos and slogans of the betting companies; they know the odds their team and favourite players are at, while hearing the shameless mantra to ‘gamble responsibly’.
How have we come to this? The answer lies in the power of the AFL and the entrenched network of boys at the top who run the competition. Many of them are keen gamblers themselves and have a cosy relationship with the corporate bookmakers. There is both lucrative sponsorship and also a cut for the AFL from every bet placed. The cultural power of the AFL is so enormous that before former Premier John Cain died he said it is the most powerful entity he had encountered in the whole of his public life.
The AFL has shown leadership on so many social issues from racism to sexuality, and even clubs getting out of poker machines. They happily preach ethics, including on players gambling, but have no such issues when their own interests come into play with gambling sponsorship.
Ironically, the most stinging ethical judgment comes from out of the mouth of the former AFL boss Andrew Demetriou. He left his protégé Gillon McLachlan in the AFL role while he went to Crown Casino and headed up Crown Bet, which struck a sponsorship deal with the AFL. At the time as a member of Crown Board he favourably compared the values of his new gig at Crown, saying their values remind him of the AFL. Well thanks to a Royal Commission we all know the values of Crown now, including facilitating money laundering and enabling organized crime.
Amazingly, in recent weeks we had the CEO of TabCorp, David Attenborough, condemning the current avalanche of betting advertisements and the massive increase in advertising spend that is no doubt harming children. He highlighted that these run in the middle of family programs like The Voice and Masterchef.
The Federal Government has been asleep at the wheel on this, failing to properly regulate gambling ads to prevent our children and grandchildren from being exposed to them. They are even okay for the partly Government-funded SBS to air gambling ads on television and online streaming platforms. Scott Morrison has a choice on this – he only need look to Italy where all gambling advertising is banned. Until he and his Government take action on gambling advertising they cannot seriously say they are a pro-family Government.
I will watch this Saturday’s game with pleasure but will grind my teeth with every gambling ad. My ears will be ringing with the words of a father who recently wrote to me about his 18-year-old son who began his apprenticeship last year. In less than 12 months he has lost $15,000 and borrowed from mates to feed his Sportsbet addiction. How can that family be watching the Grand Final anxiety-free? The next generations deserve better.