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Should we be surprised that young athletes are getting caught gambling?

Is it hypocritical to punish players who adorn gambling websites on shirts they wear every week?

West Ham United v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Nigel French/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images

As Newcastle fans await for a sentence to be handed down by the Italian Prosecutor’s Office and the Italian Football Federation following the revelations of Sandro Tonali’s betting fiasco detailed here, it got me wondering how much sympathy should we have for a 23-year-old, €70m man who must be going through a painful personal period.

Here in the United States, we have witnessed careers torpedoed into perpetuity over betting allegations, but do UEFA and their individual Football federations deserve some of the blame when there are still eight EPL teams with prominent betting sponsors on the front of jerseys?

In Italy, Serie A only banned gambling sponsors in 2019 after decades of partnership, and in countries like Brazil, 39 of the 40 teams in the first- and second-tier leagues of the Brasileirao have partnerships with bookmaking websites.

While the EPL apparently took the high road this Spring when they instituted a “ban” on betting sponsors set to begin during the 2026/27 season, in this breakdown you can see clearly that gambling companies will still be permitted to “advertise on club shirt sleeves, training tops, and stadium advertising holdings,” but not the front of the game jerseys. It’s ridiculous to make a moral stand while allowing placement all over different locations on the apparel and stadium.

And while I don’t mean to call any media out intentionally, a lot of the confusion related to Tonali’s case can be expressed in this tweet.

While there were initial allegations of blackjack or poker that were followed by accusations of more serious offenses, the damning news came on Tuesday when it was reported that Tonali had actually placed bets on his own team, AC Milan.

Historically, this seems to be the threshold for when a slap on the wrist evolves into significant punishment and ridicule. The most prominent example? Pete Rose.

For those who don’t know much about American baseball (MLB) or are simply too young to remember, Pete Rose was a legendary player who spent most of his career on the Cincinnati Reds, then became a Player-Manager and finally full-time Manager until 1989. He won pretty much every accolade over his career including an MVP and three World Series (the ultimate trophy in the MLB, akin to the World Cup in football if it was played at club level) as a player but was effectively banned from ever participating in MLB Baseball activities and the Hall of Fame forever once his gambling activities were discovered. Here is a great breakdown of his banishment.

Fast forward to August of this year and we have the 11-month suspension of Brentford striker Ivan Toney. Toney’s case has some interesting wrinkles to compare with Tonali’s. Firstly, the article identifies that Toney bet on his own team to lose but makes sure to highlight that it was determined that he wasn’t involved in match-fixing. How did they determine that fact? Who knows? What’s also interesting is that the arbiter wanted a 15-month ban, but Toney was receptive to admitting an addiction and willing to enter treatment. Sound familiar?

To be clear, I’m not minimizing gambling addiction amongst young footballers and other athletes who find themselves suddenly flush with millions in their wallets—for players like Joey Barton, betting charges effectively ended their playing careers.

I hope to shine the limelight on the hypocrisy of dozens of sports gambling sites acting as prominent sponsors on jerseys worn by players expected to ignore their existence. But there is a flip side to be considered. Amongst the constantly shifting headlines that point to a football ban between one and three years that the EPL will have to enforce, Tonali’s agent speech indicates that this may turn into quite the legal quagmire on the financial side.

For instance, will Tonali still be on Newcastle’s payroll? Ivan Toney is still receiving his paycheck from Brentford, but he was never charged criminally by a British entity—though the scandal may have ruined his international career (and bonuses) forever. Tonali will have to negotiate terms with the Italian Prosecutor's office.

Also, did AC Milan anticipate this potential suspension and rush to cash out on their homegrown hero? If so, do Newcastle go on the offensive over Tonali’s salary/fee and risk fracturing the relationship with the player and his agent who are promising to seek therapy and come back stronger than ever?

Lots of questions, no easy answers. What do you think?