The story of Rob Howley’s ban from rugby seems to be one that has affected the wider rugby audience this week.
The former Wales backs coach – who was sent home from the Welsh World Cup camp before the tournament started this September – has been banned from the game for 18 months following the ruling that he placed prohibited bets on rugby union over the past five years.
Howley is said to have placed 1163 bets on 363 games over this period, with 24 bets being placed on ‘connected events’: games involving Wales or Wales players. This has led to an 18-month ban and a 9-month suspension, backdated to his time of departure from Wales in the build-up to the World Cup, meaning he can start looking for work again in June 2020.
He extent of Howley’s betting over this period has been met with dismay amongst the rugby community, however – and this is a credit to the sport – Howley has not been victimised or made an example of.
Above all, the story is about grief and addiction. In a statement, Howley cited the trigger for his betting activity as the death of his sister in 2011:
“I am an extremely private man,” the statement read, “and unfortunately it was this that kept me silent as I battled the demons following my sister’s tragic death.”
This should serve as a warning to us all. Grief can manifest itself in many ways, and in Howley’s case it led him to turn to gambling. The conversation relating to mental health, and specifically our openness when suffering, has advanced in the last few years; one can’t help but think Howley’s unwillingness to share his grief – not publicly, but amongst friends and family – would not have helped him cope with the circumstances.
Furthermore, like it or not, gambling is now synonymous with modern sport. The boom in online betting – whether it be in-play, or accumulators, or set you own odds – has meant sports fans have never been more vulnerable to developing an addiction.
Howley is said to have lost £4000 over the five-year period, but for every story of someone having lost money, there will be someone else who has lost more. The action to tackle gambling addiction in sport must not be led by the betting companies, but from sports bodies and the government. Betting companies will always have a vested interest in keeping people betting, and I believe their efforts are not made in good faith.
I do not want to sit here and tell Rob Howley what he should do next, but whatever he does, he should not do it alone. Justin Tipuric, who has shared a long working relationship with Howley, left a positive message to his former coach, “everyone makes mistakes in life, and you have to bounce back from them.” Here’s hoping he can.
By Will Sewell.