Professional Swedish football player for LA Galaxy, Zlatan Ibrahimović, has found himself in hot water. He has joined a major bookmaking brand and left thousands of critics hotly debating his choices and his concern for the well-being of his fans. Ibrahimović’s move to sign a sponsorship deal with sports betting operator BetHard has raised major concerns. Namely that of problem gambling in sports, along with sports players’ roles in perpetuating the prolific and debilitating problem.
Zlatan Ibrahimović joined Malta-licensed sports betting operator BetHard at the end of March this year. At the time when the deal was announced, it was revealed that the professional player had signed on as both an ambassador and a shareholder with the bookmaker in question. Problem gambling groups in Sweden created an uproar and chastised the player for a move which could promote gambling among youths and other vulnerable football fans in the Scandinavian nation.
Problem Gambling Groups Condemn the Move
There have long been sponsorship relationships among professional sports players and bookmaking firms. A recent global crackdown on problem gambling has prompted a new focus on these relationships and the possible damage they could be doing to efforts to reduce gambling addiction rates. In light of this, a pro player has never before been subject to as much criticism over a bookie sponsorship deal as Ibrahimović has been. Even formal gambling regulators and organisations have been contacting him personally to lament his decision.
One of these organisations was the Organisation for Gambling Addicts, known in Sweden as the Spelberoendes Riksförbund. On April 18, the gambling addiction support group sent Ibrahimović an open letter telling him that his agreement to support the gambling industry through the ambassadorial deal was ‘immoral’ and could worsen Sweden’s current problem gambling crisis. The organisation also asked him to ‘switch sides’ to support a ‘good cause’ – that is, the nationwide effort to prevent and address the growing number of gambling addiction issues.
Player’s Response Raises Eyebrows
In the heat of the moment, the LA Galaxy player soon responded to the open letter with an even more controversial statement. In his response on Twitter, Ibrahimović said to Spelberoendes Riksförbund that the letter they sent him should have instead been sent to Svenska Spel, Sweden’s government-owned casino operator that has long held a complete monopoly over all gambling services in the nation.
After this response, even Sweden’s Gambling Minister weighed in on the controversy, noting that he is disappointed in Swedish football and its players’ blatant disregard for the climbing problem gambling rates in the country. The saga has been so far-reaching, in fact, that Ibrahimović’s participation in the upcoming World Cup is now uncertain, as Svenska Spel does not condone players signing deals or any other collaborations with operators who offer games like Roulette, or provide facilities for wagering on sporting events.
Like with most other forms of regulated gambling in Sweden, Svenska Spel has incredible weight and authority in the Swedish football industry as well. Zlatan Ibrahimović’s response may well prompt the operator to take action against the player, although what specific actions may be taken are still unknown for the present time.
Ibrahimović’s Football Future Now Uncertain
The controversy has even caused a stir as far abroad as England. BetHard’s appointment of the player as its ambassador came as a shock to many, as Ibrahimović was still a registered player of the Manchester United football team at the time. English Football Association rules strictly prohibit players and affiliated personnel such as managers and coaches from promoting or being in any way associated with betting firms and enterprises, and in late March, the player announced his termination of his contract with Manchester due to increased pressure from the club and local regulators.
However, despite all of this, Ibrahimović remains confident that he will still be permitted to play during the World Cup for LA Galaxy, one of Sweden’s biggest football teams which he joined shortly after leaving Manchester. Speaking recently on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, the player noted that he will definitely be going to the World Cup, enthusing that a ‘World Cup without him isn’t a World Cup’ at all. Again, whether or not this is simply a statement of confidence or a confirmed agreement is still to be seen!