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AFC Wimbledon's Commitment to Reject Gambling Sponsorship

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In an era when the relationship between football clubs and their local communities seems to be fraying, AFC Wimbledon stands as a shining example of a club deeply connected to its supporters and its neighborhood.

Founded in 2002 by passionate fans who refused to let their beloved club be taken from their community, AFC Wimbledon is a true testament to the power of fan ownership.

Rejecting Gambling Sponsorship for a Stronger Community Bond

The Dons Trust, comprised of dedicated supporters, owns the club and operates under the principle of democratic one-member, one-vote. This unique fan ownership model ensures that the club remains true to its community-focused values. While rapid progress may sometimes be harder to achieve under this fan ownership structure, the supporters' commitment to their club's spiritual home in Plough Lane is more significant to them than any trophy.

Recently, AFC Wimbledon took a bold step by becoming the fifth club in the English Football League (EFL) to join The Big Step campaign, initiated by the charity Gambling With Lives. This campaign aims to eliminate all forms of gambling advertising and sponsorship in football.

What sets AFC Wimbledon apart is that their decision to support The Big Step was made through fan consultation, a testament to their deeply rooted fan-orientated ownership model.

The club's commitment to The Big Step means that AFC Wimbledon will actively reject any form of gambling advertisement. This decision is notable considering the club's long-standing front-of-shirt deal with video game developer Sports Interactive, known for its flagship Football Manager series.

Kevin Rye, the community chair of The Dons Trust, highlights the benefits of their association with Football Manager, emphasizing its importance to the club. He points out that quick money from a betting company sponsorship might be tempting, but the potential reputational damage and societal impact made it a trade-off they were not willing to accept.

While the move does not mean that Plough Lane will immediately become free of gambling-related advertisements, AFC Wimbledon's commitment to The Big Step signals their dedication to the cause. As a member of the Sky Bet-backed EFL, the club still has existing sponsorship obligations. However, Shepherd is hopeful that the momentum generated by The Big Step will lead to change in the future, influencing the EFL's decisions regarding sponsorship agreements.

A common argument against a blanket ban on gambling sponsorship is that lower league and non-league clubs rely on it as a significant source of revenue. According to a report from the Financial Times, the EFL and its clubs generate approximately £40 million annually from betting deals.

However, AFC Wimbledon's assessment of their financial situation led them to conclude that rejecting gambling income would not severely impact their finances. Shepherd acknowledges that the financial implications may vary from club to club. AFC Wimbledon's unique community-centered approach enables them to make decisions based on their commitment to their supporters and neighborhood.

The Community-Centric Identity of AFC Wimbledon

The club's strong connection to its community is a cornerstone of its identity. AFC Wimbledon's players and staff are actively involved in various community initiatives, from signing Christmas cards for young fans to participating in the Big Sleepout to help vulnerable residents.

As for the future, some may wonder if AFC Wimbledon will always stay true to their fan-owned and community-focused ethos. In an environment where external investments are increasingly appealing, the club's commitment to their ownership model may face challenges. However, as long as they retain control over their club's destiny and prioritize their community, AFC Wimbledon is determined to stay true to their values.

Taking the lead in ending gambling sponsorship is entirely fitting for a club deeply rooted in its community. AFC Wimbledon's bold stand demonstrates the power of fan ownership and its potential to drive positive change in football.

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