Carl Valeri, photo: Melbourne Victory
I was about six when I got into soccer. My big brother Matt played, and I idolised him. Dad played and coached, too. It was the only sport I knew, and I loved it. I loved the fact that I didn’t think about anything else when I was playing.
Being from an Italian background, we followed the Italian Serie A. Every Sunday morning, we watched a two-hour TV show dedicated to Italian football. But mostly, I was outside kicking the ball. Mum says dinner had to be visibly on the table before I’d come in.
By 18, I was playing in Italy. I was lucky enough to play there for 10 years.
Sports betting advertising is scary
When I came back to Australia in 2014 and started watching AFL, Rugby League and the A-League again, I was suddenly seeing all these gambling ads. I don’t like gambling and didn’t pay attention, but I knew the odds on all the games; the messages were somehow imprinted on my brain. I couldn’t believe that level of gambling advertising had been allowed to happen.
Gambling seems to have become intertwined with everyday life, especially in sport.
Now it’s everywhere, and gambling seems to have become intertwined with everyday life, especially in sport. The ads are in-your-face and quite manipulative. If you look at the science behind them, and how the brain works, it’s scary. They’re always in a social setting with your mates, or at home on the couch, and that’s not healthy behaviour. Conversations about sport have become less about the spectacle and more about the odds, who’s going to win and how much money can be made.
There are many reasons why I dislike gambling, but the main reason is my children. I don’t want my kids to be taken in by the clever ads and then taken down that path when they’re older, because the effects can be long-term.
Talking to our kids about the risks
Except for ABC Kids, we don’t watch much TV. But when we do watch sport and the betting ads come on, I’ll cringe and check my daughters’ expressions. My eldest daughter is nine and has started taking notice. She sees the numbers and asks questions.
I’ve explained to my kids what gambling means and that you don’t necessarily win. It’s not a game, it’s real money, and it does disappear. I think it’s important to have that conversation. They take in what they need and tune out after a couple of minutes.
I don’t want my kids to be taken in by the clever ads.
It’s also important to be conscious of what you’re talking about in front of your kids. Kids’ ears prick up in a social environment. My daughter’s a genius at it. You’ll be talking to your friends and she’ll be there listening, taking it all in. She won’t listen when you tell her 10 times ‘clean up your room’, but when you’re talking to your friends, she’ll be there listening attentively.
Another example is the Melbourne Cup – explaining to my daughter how a sweep works. Is it right or is it wrong? Are we setting our kids up for something? When I was young, a Melbourne Cup sweep or bet wasn’t so bad. But now that gambling is in our face every day, and we are learning more and more about the harm it can cause, I think something as small as a Melbourne Cup sweep is worth educating our kids about.
Enjoy the moment
Sports betting has definitely had an impact on Australia’s soccer culture, and Melbourne Victory is committed to raising awareness about the risks, including as a partner of the Foundation’s Love the Game program. As sportspeople and role models to younger generations, we have a part to play in separating gambling from the game.
Enjoy the game for what it is, enjoy the spectacle, enjoy the moment.
In my opinion, there are enough thrills in soccer, you don’t need another one. Enjoy the game for what it is, enjoy the spectacle, enjoy the moment. What I love most about playing is when you’ve just played a big team and you needed to win, and you fought hard together, and you won. It doesn’t have to be A-League. It doesn’t matter what level.