Soccer Legend Neymar Criticized for His Interest In Poker

Not too long ago, French soccer legend Emmanuel Petit raised concerns about soccer superstar Neymar Jr.’s apparent infatuation with poker, suggesting that the Brazilian player’s dedication to the game may be affecting his performance on the pitch.

Neymar, who currently represents Al Hilal in the Saudi Pro League, has long been associated with poker, serving as an ambassador for PokerStars and frequently participating in prestigious tournaments such as the World Series of Poker. 

In 2014, Neymar Jr. dipped his toes into the world of poker, and since then, he’s fully embraced the game. While his official live tournament winnings stand at $32,000, he’s no stranger to cash games either. Notably, in 2018, he secured a sixth-place finish in a $1,400 side event at the Brazilian Series of Poker, pocketing a cool $21,072.

Recognizing the growing popularity of poker in Brazil, Neymar joined forces with PokerStars in 2021 for the second time, becoming one of their ambassadors. The partnership not only aimed to connect with soccer fans but also tapped into Brazil’s burgeoning poker community.

One notable incident that drew criticism occurred after Al Hilal lost the first leg 1-0 to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League last year. Neymar was spotted at the European Poker Tour Paris, sparking outrage among fans who deemed his actions unprofessional. This sentiment was echoed by some in the sports world, including a 1998 World Cup winner, as reported by Essentially Sports.

Petit’s recent comments imply that Neymar’s passion for poker may be overshadowing his commitment to scoring goals for his team. However, despite the occasional scrutiny, Neymar remains a highly sought-after player. He recently signed a lucrative two-year deal with Al Hilal, reportedly worth $418 million, following a substantial transfer fee.

Interestingly, Neymar is not the only soccer player with a penchant for poker. Spain’s Gerard Pique has been known to participate in European poker tournaments, while Germany’s Max Kruse even secured a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2022. 

Additionally, PokerStars has previously partnered with soccer icons Cristiano Ronaldo and Teddy Sheringham, highlighting the crossover appeal between the worlds of soccer and poker.

Instances of problem gambling are becoming a big concern among athletes

If you’ve been keeping up with developments in the realm of problem gambling, you’re likely familiar with the ongoing controversies involving the NFL and NCAA regarding players’ violations of sports betting policies. 

Since the US Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting in 2018, these issues have only intensified year after year. As a result, there’s a growing debate among the public and various programs and organizations: should athletes be permitted to engage in gambling activities?

Various policies are already in place to regulate sports betting among players at both collegiate and professional levels, each with its own set of rules regarding penalties and potential reinstatement. While there’s no all-encompassing policy prohibiting athletes from gambling entirely, the regulations differ across leagues. 

For instance, MLB, NBA, and NHL players are allowed to bet on sports or leagues in which they aren’t actively involved under contract. However, the NCAA imposes stricter guidelines, prohibiting anyone associated with NCAA athletics from participating in any form of sports betting. 

Despite this, there are no specific rules preventing college players from engaging in casino gambling as long as they are of legal age and in a jurisdiction where it is lawful. While instances like ISU’s defensive lineman Isaiah Lee betting against his own team highlight clear violations, many are left wondering if a comprehensive anti-gambling policy could be the solution. 

Critics may argue that such a policy would infringe upon athletes’ rights and freedoms. However, it’s worth noting that leagues already enforce strict policies prohibiting athletes from engaging in various activities. For example, NBA contracts explicitly forbid participation in activities like boxing, wrestling, motorcycling, and skydiving. 

Similarly, NFL quarterback Marcus Mariota reportedly postponed contract signing with the Tennessee Titans due to a clause prohibiting him from surfing. These restrictions are implemented to safeguard players’ health and protect their teams’ investments in them. The same rationale could apply to gambling, considering its potential impact on player integrity and team dynamics.

Another notable case occurred at the end of 2022 when Virginia Tech linebacker Alan Tisdale was suspended for placing a single wager on the 2022 NBA Finals using the FanDuel app. This action, fully permitted in Virginia, resulted in Tisdale’s suspension, despite his exemplary academic performance and self-reporting of the wager. 

Tisdale’s case highlights the challenges faced by student-athletes who may inadvertently run afoul of NCAA rules on sports betting. Similarly, in the NFL, off-season suspensions have occurred not because players bet on the NFL itself, but due to wagers placed on other leagues online while at team or league facilities. 

Curiously, if these players had crossed the street to place their bets, they would not have faced suspension. This inconsistency underscores the confusion that arises when policies are vague or loosely defined.

As you can see, many of these listing policies often lack clarity, leaving room for interpretation and making it easy for players to unknowingly violate them. These examples suggest that players may not always be fully aware of the implications of these policies, leading to inadvertent violations. 

As such, there is a growing call for clearer guidelines and stricter enforcement to ensure that athletes understand their obligations and avoid unintended consequences. Gambling can lead to significant financial debt, with one NFL player reportedly losing a staggering $8 million to gambling just last year. 

When players accumulate debt from gambling activities not covered by league policies, such as betting on other sports and engaging in casino gaming, they may face heightened risks. Not only are they tempted to gamble more in an attempt to recover their losses, but they also become vulnerable to exploitation by predators who may pressure them to fix games.

These predators often have ties to organized crime, and the threat they pose is very real. In such scenarios, athletes may be coerced into influencing game outcomes by deliberately underperforming or “shaving points,” thus compromising the integrity of the sport.

The consequences of these actions extend far beyond individual players and can tarnish the reputation of entire sports leagues. Match-fixing scandals not only undermine the integrity of athletic competitions but also erode public trust and confidence in the fairness of sports. As such, there is a pressing need for comprehensive policies and proactive measures to combat illegal gambling activities and protect athletes from exploitation.

Final Thoughts

These recent controversies involving high-profile athletes and their involvement in gambling activities highlight the need for clearer guidelines and stricter oversight to safeguard the integrity of sports and protect athletes from financial and reputational harm. 

As discussions continue on the role of athletes in the gambling landscape, it is vital that all-inclusive measures are put in place to lessen risks associated with problem gambling and ensure fair play across all levels of competition.

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