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European Soccer Facing Difficult Gambling Questions

Penny October 18, 2023

At a time when many European soccer associations are moving to push gambling out of the sport, it faces a new controversy that looks set to plunge it into turmoil. A group of Italian soccer stars are embroiled in a sports betting scandal that spans across the continent. Midfielders Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo, who play for Newcastle United and Aston Villa of the English Premier League respectively, and Nicolo Fagioli of Juventus are the three men at the heart of this unfolding drama. They are accused of taking part in prohibited – and possibly illegal – betting activities that will remind soccer fans of the recent sports betting scandal involving former Newcastle striker Ivan Toney. So what exactly are the details in this latest case and how will this affect the sport in both Italy and England?

premier league

Bans Likely and Legal Consequences Not Ruled Out

Officials in Turin have named the two Premier League aces and Serie A star in an investigation into illegal betting in Italy. At the time that the offences are believed to have been committed the two players now playing their trade in England were at Milan and Roma. According to Sky News, they were withdrawn from the most recent Italy squad, leaving the national team in disarray ahead of their European Championship qualifier against top-of-the-table England. The three are accused of betting on soccer, which is prohibited for players completely in Italy. Zaniolo has professed his innocence in the matter, telling his club and Italian officials that he was simply playing blackjack on a website that he did not know was illegal and that he never took part in any betting on soccer of any kind. If that is found to be true, it’s unlikely that the 24-year-old will face any repercussions. The other two involved, though, will be increasingly concerned that they could be facing a lengthy period of time on the sidelines. 


It has been reported by the Athletic that, if found guilty of these betting breaches, the players involved could face three-year worldwide bans from participating in the sport. That is significantly longer than the ban that the aforementioned Toney was slapped with after the English FA found him guilty of breaching its betting restrictions. The English striker was given eight months on the sidelines, which many commented seemed severe given that the player was not accused of match-fixing or betting on games in which he played. For three young players to face more than four times that away from their profession would be significant and likely send a message throughout Italy that illegal betting will be punished harshly. It would also leave some clubs questioning their recruitment processes, given that two of the three have recently joined new clubs.


Should Newcastle and Villa Have Foreseen Trouble?

A big question that many will be asking is whether the two English clubs at the heart of the scandal could have avoided getting themselves involved. Zaniolo is on loan at Villa, so should he receive a significant ban, they have greater recourse to void the loan agreement and return the midfielder to his parent club, Turkey’s Galatasaray. However, as reported by CBS Sports, recently cash-rich Newcastle United splashed a club-record €70 million on Milan’s Sandro Tonali. The 23-year-old was intended to be the marquee signing for the Saudi-owned club as they look to disrupt the established order in the Premier League and qualify for the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League. A three-year ban would be catastrophic for the club, and would likely leave the hierarchy questioning whether the selling club had any information regarding Tonali’s involvement in illegal gambling. If so, it’s likely that the Magpies would look to see if they could take the Italian club to court.


At the moment, the jury is quite literally still out as to whether any of the three players involved have broken any laws. However, this latest controversy indicates that there is a real problem at the heart of European soccer as it grapples with its responsibility in the proliferation of sports betting and gambling on the continent. As was the case with Ivan Toney’s ban earlier in 2023, these developments are likely to open up the conversation around the relationship that the sport has with gambling operators and the promotion of sports betting. It’s likely that this will lead to some real soul-searching as it becomes clear that this is a continent-wide issue that is beginning to affect the careers of promising young players. Will the authorities offer more support to these young men or throw them to the wolves in an effort to be seen have acted?

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