There are moments, doing this job, which are joyous in how they come about. Last night was one of those moments. I was sitting in a Tenerife Irish bar writing another piece entirely – you’ll read that one later – when someone messaged me with the details of this one, and I have to admit that it was one of those occasions when my jaw hit the floor.
So before I start, the credit for this one belongs to my sister, and the admin team at The CelticBlog Facebook group, who I firmly believe – with respect to their peers – are the best in the business. They brought this one to me between them and dropped every detail of it in my lap and the reason I want to credit them for that is that they did it in the space of an hour … an incredible achievement for the simple fact that the mainstream media isn’t anywhere near this.
A few Celtic fans, spending most of their time scouring every available internet source for information about our own club was, nevertheless, in very short order able to run down this amazing story and basically just hand it to me on a silver plate. Incredible.
It started with a picture of the new Ibrox home strip and their advertising blurb. This is Castore’s latest effort, and it features several elements. But as usual, this is all fluff and decoration. The Ibrox shirt is basically a plain blue jersey, not special in any way, in spite of numerous efforts to make it so down through the years. I find it funny they’d even try.
But that’s not to say that this strip is not revealing in any number of ways; it is highly interesting, in fact, for the complete lack of joined up thinking which is evident in it. Their club remains one of the most dysfunctional in the UK. Any club can suffer the loss of a manager like we did this week – it takes a special type of club to be able to mess up every little thing.
Underneath the name of the main club sponsor – Unibet – is another; Zero % Mission. And that made my people laugh a little; imagine having those words on a football top. It’s quite funny on its own and it might have made an amusing story in and of itself … but it does not do justice to the full scope of what you are about to read, and only Ibrox could have done this.
A couple of my guys were interesting in finding out who Zero % Mission were … and this is where you first fall down the rabbit hole.
It turns out that this is an organisation but an offshoot of Kindred Group, the one which owns Unibet itself. The “mission” they speak of is to reduce what they call “harmful gambling” … to zero.
And so what you have is a gambling prevention organisation run by a gambling company, which is one of the shadiest things I’ve heard of in football sponsorship, but which I’ve encountered again and again in politics.
You would not believe how many so-called advocacy groups in politics are set up across the aisle from where you’d expect. Let me give you one example.
The well-known organisation The Taxpayers Alliance, ostensibly an organisation dedicated to making sure that government money was not being mis-spent, was actually partly founded by a guy called Matthew Elliot. And who was he? Well he went on to form an organisation called Business For Britain; they were supposed to be a advocating a better deal with the EU. In fact, Elliot is profoundly right-wing, pro-privatisation and anti union, as the Taxpayer Alliance quickly established itself. And Business For Britain? It turned out to be a leading part of the Out campaign during the EU referendum, and although Elliot had disguised his intentions it was set up for that exact purpose.
I’ll give you another; the Section 28 debate in Scotland could have, and should have, been a straightforward campaign on gay rights, and yet numerous organisations from every corner of the spectrum popped up to oppose it. And what was the purpose of that? Civic concern?
No, it was at least partly rooted in the idea that Scotland should not take a lead in civic reform in the UK lest it increase support for independence. Do you doubt it? Look at the organisations and individuals most vocally opposed to the reform, including the Souttar family, the Tory Party … and the newspaper which spoke out most vocally against it and then, during the referendum itself, promoted The Pledge; our old friends at The Daily Record.
Having watched how these sorts of entities pop up, often with objectives which bear not the slightest resemblance to the function they eventually end up serving, it is dead easy to spot the ones who are set up in a more slapdash fashion and who don’t even hide their purpose, and an organisation devoted to reducing gambling, and which is owned by a gambling organisation, is pretty blatant. They rely on the average punter not noticing or caring and getting a few lines in the media from time to time.
In this case, their organisation exists for no other reason than to convince the regulators that there is no need for government intervention in their field, that they can take care of reform on their own. It is one of the oldest tricks in the book and which the Death Industries have perfected over the years. The oil industry’s pledge – and failure – to do so is why we’re in existential peril now.
The tobacco industry have been excellent at this over the years; I’ve had more than a few clashes with them, but the most spectacular was during my effort to ban smoking in the University of Stirling Student Union when I was there. They pushed back hard in a number of guises, and did everything they could to counter the brilliant work down by ASH Scotland, the public health organisation set up to promote the ban. It was interesting to see, first hand, how they had co-opted senior staff at the union and bent them towards their point of view. These people are good.
But this is a moment when Scottish football is in the gun-sights of regulators on this, and in particular the very legislative body which imposed that ban on the tobacco industry in spite of all their lobbyists and political muscle. Gambling’s day is coming and all these cheap and nasty tactics are going to be brought into the light when that happens. It’s a matter of time.
But you know what? I thought since my guys discovered so much about these folks in the here and now, and in a short time, that it might be good to drag some facts – facts; mark that word – into the light right now, and in particular because the mainstream media isn’t going to do it.
Let’s start with what The Kindred Group actually set up the Zero % Mission to do, and you will never read such a blatant example of what I’m talking about here.
Their objective is – believe it or not – to see that “zero percent” of the company’s profits come from what they pitifully call “harmful gambling” by the end of this year. I say “good luck with that one.” It is so transparently designed to keep pending regulations at bay.
Let’s just say that this is not going terribly well.
Since 2019 a number of countries has prosecuted, and fined, The Kindred Group – who also own 32Red by the way – for various violations of their national gambling laws and what is particularly incredible is that some of those prosecutions have actually fallen this year …. so whilst they promote a “zero percent” policy through one offshoot, their lawyers are fighting actions on multiple fronts with various jurisdictions alleging various breaches including, and this is no joke, operating without a license.
Listen, the guys who dropped this on me were operating late at night -following the final – and thus this should not in any way be taken as an exhaustive list; there is no doubt whatsoever that there is a lot more out there to find and I would welcome anybody who wants to go much further in making this a stronger article. At the same time, if anyone can demonstrate clear breaches by the gambling company Celtic continues to advertise then bring it on.
Because you know what?
Any civic minded person should want the booze and betting companies removed from our game entirely, and any demonstration of what their tactics are, and what their history is, can only be to the public benefit.
But I wonder who else in the industry has a record like that of The Kindred Group … and because Ibrox put their betting firm and their advocacy group on its shirt as one package, that invites questions and scrutiny …. but who else cares?
In 2019 it was the Dutch regulators going after Kindred Group, and fining them for operating without a license. The fines totally nearly £450,000. Then it was the turn of regulators in Canada, where the province of Ontario fined them. The Australians levied fines on them for inducing gamblers to spend more by prohibited means. They won a court case in Sweden against a fine, but only on a technicality. They are currently facing proceedings in Poland for what authorities there called “breaches of good conduct and licensing.”
And just two days ago, they lost an appeal against the regulator in Norway in which they were, again, accused of unlicensed betting.
No wonder they are involved in this Zero % Mission stuff; their public relations arm must be busier than the Ibrox legal department.