Now is the time to squash the stigma surrounding gambling addictions and provide extensive support and infrastructure for vulnerable sportspeople, according to PFA Scotland’s Michelle Evans.
Communications officer Evans also looks after the wellbeing of the organisation’s 1,200 members across the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) and helps educate footballers about the dangers of falling into problem gambling.
Evans knows that a lived experience and first-person tale hits hardest when young sportspeople are listening about the dangers of addictive betting and hopes to continue to broaden the platforms available to those struggling.
Evans has become one of the founding members of the EPIC Risk Management Pro Sport Advisory Board, which has been launched as the world’s first panel to investigate and act upon the risk of gambling harm affecting professional sports stars or eSports players.
“I personally think gambling and addiction is a more of a taboo subject than maybe talking about your mental health,” said Evans, a former sports journalist.
“It’s such a hidden thing and there’s a lot of pride and a lot of embarrassment around it, so I think the more we talk about it and the more we make people realise that a lot of people fall into that trap the better it is and hopefully more people come forward and get help.”
The global collective is made up of leading names from organisations representing professional sports players, eSports experts and gambling industry leaders, who will meet throughout the year to share best practice, highlight concerns and shape policy through their experience in gambling, gaming, esports, integrity, athlete welfare and lived experience.
It has been brought together by leading gambling harm minimisation consultancy EPIC Risk Management, which employs a number of current and former professional sports stars as facilitators in their worldwide training programmes to warn players across multiple sports of the heightened risk of gambling addiction in their sector, which is regularly recorded as being four times higher than among those who aren’t involved in elite sports.
Evans is itching to get started and thinks a pooling and sharing of knowledge and resources will only help those who really need it.
“I think short term I’m really looking forward to meeting up with the other people on the board and sharing the knowledge and experience,” said the former Partick Thistle press officer.
“One of the great things about EPIC from my point of view is the lived experience that they use – I think that is huge not just across gambling but other addictions and mental health. I think people talking about their experiences will help.
“Maybe if different sports can share experience of what they know from within their sport, how they can support their athletes – I think that’s going to be a fantastic thing.”
Evans first came across EPIC when she invited the company’s head of delivery and former professional rugby union player Mark Potter into Scottish football clubs to talk about the stranglehold of his addiction which left him on the verge of suicide.
“I have never seen a group of boys so quiet; you could have heard a pin drop in that room it was so silent when Mark was telling his story about how he got involved in gambling and how it took over his life,” she added.
“Their jaws were open; they were all listening and at the end I stood at the back of the room and there were a few going to have a private chat with Mark and it was fantastic.
“I can educate them and make them aware of things, but I haven’t lived it. To have somebody there that has lived it and you can recognise a part of you in them to be able to know that there are other people out there suffering and that have been through what you’re going through and that you can turn to for some help and even just a chat with them.”
EPIC Risk Management Pro Sport Advisory Board. The world’s first panel looking into gaming and gambling harm minimisation for elite sport.