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Aston Villa refuse to U-turn on new controversial shirt sponsor after fan backlash

The gates of Aston Villa football club's stadium, Villa Park are pictured in the spring sunshine in Birmingham, central England on April 19, 2020, during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic - Aston Villa refuse to U-turn on new controversial shirt sponsor after fan backlash
The gates of Aston Villa football club's stadium, Villa Park are pictured in the spring sunshine in Birmingham, central England on April 19, 2020, during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic - Aston Villa refuse to U-turn on new controversial shirt sponsor after fan backlash

Aston Villa have dismissed a campaign from their own supporters to abandon a shirt sponsorship deal with controversial online casino BK8. Christian Purslow, the club's chief executive, met with fan groups protesting after Telegraph Sport revealed details of the new three-year arrangement.

But the club is refusing to budge despite outrage over the brand axed by Norwich City in 2021 over sexualised adverts with young women. The Aston Villa Fans Consultation Group said following the meeting that BK8 now appears certain to be "the new front-of-shirt sponsor for the next three seasons".

"While some fans will be disappointed after Villa’s current front-of-shirt sponsor moved away from gambling companies, the commercial reality is that to teams outside the top six, such sponsors offer clubs twice as much financially as non-gambling companies," the supporter group added.

The decision is a major blow for anti-gambling campaigners who had been hoping Premier League clubs would press ahead with a voluntary ban on betting shirt sponsors.

Thousands of supporters expressed anger as Purslow had previously suggested the club was moving away from gambling front of shirt sponsors.

"While we appreciate that gambling firms typically pay above the average rate for Premier League shirt sponsorships, considering the club's promises we feel Aston Villa is not holding itself to a high enough standard, especially when it comes to the ethics of sponsorship arrangements," the Villa fan groups previously said in a letter to the club.

Villa's deal with Cazoo, the current sponsor, expires this summer. As disclosed by Telegraph Sport earlier this month, the club will confirm a new sponsorship arrangement with BK8, probably by May

In the summer of 2021, Norwich had been forced to tear up a deal with the same Asian betting firm amid outrage among fans and locals who pointed out marketing on YouTube featured simulated sex acts with a sausage.

One Instagram account that claimed to belong to a BK8 "ambassador" also reportedly linked directly to hardcore pornography. BK8 have since deleted the adverts, apologised and rebranded themselves.

The Big Step campaign group against gambling advertising in football said in a statement that the situation was indicative of clubs failing to put "people before profit".

"In the last few days, we have seen Preston put a gambling advert on their shirt for a televised match one season after ditching betting sponsorship due to 'grave misgivings' from fans," a statement added.

"Days later it is now all but confirmed that Aston Villa have signed a multi-year shirt sponsorship deal with an online casino despite the club telling fan groups they had taken the 'ethical decision' not to have such sponsors just three months ago. These aren't isolated examples."

A Government white paper on gambling legislation reform is imminent, but the campaign group added: "Time and again so many clubs say one thing about gambling before doing another. The commendable clubs who put people before profit are sadly in the minority. As a community of people harmed by gambling, largely made up of huge football fans, we would love for our teams to voluntarily move away from gambling sponsorship, and we will continue to persuade them to do so.

But it is now clear that most clubs cannot be trusted on gambling - they are not listening to their own supporters who are consistently and increasingly opposed to these harmful deals."

Villa have repeatedly declined to comment on the sponsorship arrangements.