UK Sports (Betting) Facing A Summer Of Disruption
Sport, and by extension sports betting, is facing a long summer of disruption and protest.
For sport, its vagaries, its excitement, its timeless stories of plucky underdogs overcoming great odds to win grand prizes, lies at the heart of gambling.
While slots, bingo and casino, for example, have their adherents, sport has a greater, almost universal, appeal.
You may be befuddled by the arcane rules of cricket but you love the driving passion of football, in all its shapes, sizes and regulations.
The wizardry and beer-swilling antics of darts passes you by, yet you’re captivated by the elegance, poise and precision of snooker.
In sport–and thus in gaming and iGaming–there’s something for everybody.
So it comes as little surprise, regretful as it may be, to find that the magic of sport is once again being hijacked by radical protesters to further their political campaigns, as highlighted by the recent disruption of the Grand National at Aintree and snooker’s World Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.
There’s a long–and some would argue, honourable–history in disrupting horse racing to highlight greater causes.
The shocking death of suffragette Emily Davison after she ran in front of the King’s horse, Anmer, at the 1913 Derby is perhaps the most famous political sporting protest of all.
Widely denounced at the time, Emily’s sacrifice was critical to women finally being given the right to vote by the Representation of the People Act in 1918, followed by the Equal Franchise Act of 1928.
Memories of anti-Apartheid activists campaigning for a sports boycott of racist South Africa, the raised-fists Black Power protests of US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games and the refusal of the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali to fight in Vietnam, are all equally prescient.
But in years to come little credence will be given to the 118 protestors of ‘Animal Rising’, formally ‘Animal Rebellion’, who disrupted the start of the storied Grand National on Saturday.
Condemnation, more likely, will be the operative word.
And more so, after claims by Sandy Thomson the owner of Hill Sixteen, a 10-year-old racing at odds of 66-1, that fell and broke his neck at the first fence following the delayed Off.
“I think they [the protestors have] blood on their hands,” said Thomson. “[It] might be a bit strong, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the chaos contributed to his death. In my heart of hearts, I believe that.
“It was a desperate scene. Absolutely horrible. Going down there, you don’t know for sure, but you’re preparing yourself. The screens were up around him and he was covered in a sheet.
“I just got down beside him and stroked his neck and thanked him for everything he’d done for us. I said sorry. It was so upsetting.
“He died straight away. I’ve read that he was euthanised, but he wasn’t. He was such a lovely horse. Everybody is still raw.
“We love these horses. We feed them, we muck out after them, we groom them, we’re very close to them.”
Two other horses died over the three-day Aintree National Hunt racing festival.
The League Against Cruel Sports told iGamingFuture that the death toll at Aintree was now 61 horses since 2000, 15 of them killed in runnings of the Grand National.
“We’re going to be taking action across the whole summer,” confirmed a spokesperson at Animal Rising.
“We’re going to be trying to protect horses at other horse racing events.
“Half of all horses in slaughterhouses have a racing passport, alongside the billion animals that die in our food system each year, and we need to find ways of loving these animals that doesn’t harm them.”
Meantime, politically-charged protest has now also targeted the normally sanguine world of snooker, a sport where controversy is usually measured by the latest hissy-fit of superstar cuesman Ronnie O’Sullivan.
On Monday two climate change activists from ‘Just Stop Oil’ jumped security at the open reach World Championship in Sheffield and disrupted play by one of them covering themselves and a table with orange powder, while the other tried to superglue themself to the contest’s second table.
“In my mind, it didn’t do their cause anything but harm,” said one-time snooker supremo Barry Hearn.
“[It’s] an easy target. The Crucible is so small, so private. You can reach out and almost shake hands with the players.
“[The protestors] are not making a point at all. They’re just disruptive. When protest is so disruptive it stops people getting value for money and having bought tickets, they are robbed of that opportunity. It is a form of theft.”
Soft targets? Theft?
Unfortunately it would appear that for radical protestors from across the political spectrum the latest sport is the very disruption of sport itself.
What now are the odds of a pitch invasion at the FA Cup final come June 3 or turf war at Wimbledon fortnight?