WESTERN Bulldogs captain Easton Wood said increasing exposure to sports betting in the game is gambling too much with a young generation's future.
Wood renewed his call for a sports betting-free environment in a visit to Ballarat. He was concerned in the club's school visits how children's AFL talk was increasingly involving odds.
"The issue I see is kids are exposed to betting too much in football. When kids refer to the game at schools now they're asking 'who's the favourite' rather than 'who are you cheering for'," Wood said. "We should enjoy the game just for the game."
Wood first spoke out against gambling in sport two years ago after a mandatory AFL education session on responsible gambling in which all players and staff were warned about potential dangers, how life could quickly unravel. Yet, AFL and AFLW broadcasting was filled with advertisements for betting agencies.
As a high-profile footballer, and conscious he was a direct beneficiary of such funds, Wood felt compelled to speak out. But he said sports betting advertising was still saturating the game, from extra accessibility via smart phones and live odds to live crosses with AFL personalities updating odds.
"Every time you flick on the telly it seems like a competing landscape for betting agencies. Ads seem to always shout at you," Wood said. "When you're bombarded by this stuff you don't always question it. It's normalising gambling in sport."
Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation has renewed partnerships with all 10 Victorian AFL clubs in an ongoing campaign to love the game, not the odds.
The foundation's interim chief and former Committee for Ballarat chairman Janet Dore said Wood was leading by example and key to reaching a generation of young people who had never known a time when betting was not associated with AFL.
Ms Dore said putting the spotlight on gambling was important because excessive sports betting promotion could normalise gambling and when something felt normal, it no longer seemed risky.
"During a kick with Ballarat Football Netball League juniors, (Easton Wood) emphasised what he loves about footy – like being part of a team, developing strategic, leadership and practical playing skills, keeping physically fit and having fun – which clearly have nothing to do with betting,” Dore said.
Almost three in four Victorians think adolescents have too much exposure to gambling advertising, a foundation survey found last year.
Wood said his position as a player gave him a privileged opportunity to speak up, despite the AFL's sponsorship ties. He said the AFL takes social causes seriously and could make a positive influence on the community, like the league's backing of the YES campaign on marriage equality.
"(Gambling) is a really complex one," Wood said. "The more we talk about it, the more we can do something about stuff that's not good for our health on a national level going forward."
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PROUD western district export Easton Wood says his club's kennel in Ballarat is making a telling impact across the state's west.
Western Bulldogs are spending two days in Warrnambool with community visits on the back of Sunday's practice match at Mars Stadium. The club has been strengthening its presence in the western corridor since joining forces with City of Ballarat in 2014 and bringing AFL premiership season matches to the region the past two years.
Wood, who hails from Camperdown, said the move was about more than bring the game to regional Victoria, it was about showing children across the state's west what could be possible.
Warrnambool is where Wood played a lot of his junior football and he loved having that connection to schools in the region.
"It's really special and one thing I never take for granted being an AFL player, when the kids sit and look up to you with their adoring eyes," Wood said.
"I hope what they see and imagine is being in your shoes one day."
There are lots of hard things about playing AFL, but then you get to go to schools and see a kid in a Western Bulldogs jumper and he or she has your number on their back - that's really special.
Camperdown College, where Wood went to school, even painted a bollard in his likeness for their junior campus in the wake of the Bulldogs' 2016 premiership.
Wood said is was great as players to see the swell of support for the Bulldogs' growing across the region.
Western Bulldogs have made a strong community investment in Ballarat. This includes holistic men's health program Sons of the West which started in Sebastopol and Wendouree and has expanded to Smythesdale, Maryborough, women's program Daughters of the West and a leadership program.
The club's literacy program for children last month launched a fourth season and will involve about 90 pupils from across Alfredton, Warrenheip, Yuille Park and Canadian Lead primary schools. Bulldogs Read is exclusive to Ballarat with pupils writing book reviews and having Skype sessions to talk books with players.
Western Bulldogs also host a youth leadership project for community-minded teenagers stretching from the western suburbs into the City of Ballarat, Hepburn, Pyrenees, Golden Plains and Glenelg shires.
The Bulldogs will be next be in action at Mars Stadium against Brisbane Lions on May 11 with a round 23 clash against Adelaide in clubs' final home-and-away fixture for the season.
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