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Betting firms deserve no credit for ending FA Cup rights row, says Labour MP

The gambling industry should be given no credit for its part in ending the row over FA Cup matches being exclusively streamed on betting sites, an MP has said.

Matches which could only be accessed by individuals holding an active account with one of seven betting companies will now be available via a free platform, with the Football Association announcing on Friday afternoon that it was working with the BBC and BT Sport, who hold the UK television rights to the competition, on a solution.

That only became possible when the betting companies concerned waived exclusivity on Thursday in a statement on their behalf from the Betting and Gaming Council’s chairman Brigid Simmonds.

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However Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East who asked an Urgent Question concerning the betting streams in the House of Commons this week, said this was an attempt by the gambling industry to appear “soft, caring and cuddly” and lessen the impact of future changes to regulation around gambling.

“If (a solution) happens we’ve had a great win, and common sense has prevailed,” she told the PA news agency.

“The BGC are wise enough to know that there’s a sea change on its way. This is not them being compassionate or caring, this is them seeing that if they don’t do it now they’ll be forced to do it.

“So they want to lessen the impact and soften up what the Gambling Act will look like when it’s changed – because it will be changed.

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“They want to be seen as compassionate and thoughtful. They have got a new chairman, Brigid Simmonds, she is working really hard to make this industry look soft, caring and cuddly.

“It’s so obvious what’s going on that you’d have to be a little bit dim not to realise that this isn’t them being the good guys, this is them doing something to try to make themselves look a bit more compassionate. So no, I don’t give them any credit.

“I will take my hat off to the FA, they have listened to what Parliament said yesterday. We spoke on behalf of many thousands of people who are absolutely disgusted about what had happened with this deal.

“I don’t think the betting industry compromise was done without the pressure being put on by what we did, and they knew it was coming. Why didn’t they do this in 2017?

“They have waited for this to become a national story, with everyone that I could possibly imagine criticising them. They could have stopped this from ever happening in the first place. This is contrived, all set up to put themselves in a good light.”

BGC chairman Simmonds said in response to Harris’ comments: “We are listening and acting on concerns but I appreciate we have much more work to do to prove that our industry is raising standards.”

The UK streaming rights were sold to the betting firms by sports media rights company IMG following a deal it struck with the FA in January 2017. In the summer of that same year, the FA changed its position on gambling and ended a partnership with Ladbrokes, but was understood to have much less room for manoeuvre regarding the streaming because its deal was with IMG, not the betting companies directly.

The deal was heavily criticised, with Conservative MP Damian Collins saying it created “an active incentive to gamble”, while sports minister Nigel Adams and Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan urged the FA to reconsider.

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No live feeds are being produced for the third-round replays next week except for the matches which are already being televised – Tottenham v Middlesbrough on the BBC on Tuesday and Manchester United v Wolves on BT Sport on Wednesday, so there is no need to identify a solution to this issue in time for those games.

It is understood that the only fourth-round tie which a free platform will have to be found for is the QPR v Sheffield Wednesday match on Friday, January 24.