Paul Merson thinks Ivan Toney should not have been banned for breaching betting rules
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Paul Merson delivered an impassioned defence of Brentford forward Ivan Toney before he was officially suspended from all football-related activity.
On Wednesday afternoon, the FA confirmed in a statement that England international Toney would be banned for eight months and fined £50,000 for breaching The FA’s Betting Rules.
The statement read: "Ivan Toney has been suspended from all football and football-related activity with immediate effect for eight months, which runs up to and including 16 January 2024, fined £50,000 and warned as to his future conduct for breaches of The FA’s Betting Rules.
"The Brentford FC forward was charged with 262 breaches of FA Rule E8 in total between 25 February 2017 and 23 January 2021. The FA subsequently withdrew 30 of these breaches and he admitted to the remaining 232.
"His sanctions were subsequently imposed by an independent Regulatory Commission following a personal hearing. He is permitted to return to training only with his club for the final four months of his suspension starting from 17 September 2023.
"The independent Regulatory Commission’s written reasons for these sanctions will be published in due course, and The FA will wait to review them before commenting further."
Back in March, after it was reported that Toney had pleaded guilty to multiple charges of breaching Football Association betting rules, former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson gave his thoughts on the matter.
The 55-year-old, who has spoken openly about his previous addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling, says Toney should be cut some slack and fined rather than given a blanket ban from the game.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Merson said: "He shouldn't be getting banned. It's the worst addiction in the world, a ban ain't going to help anybody, ain't going to help him.
"You shouldn't have bans. You should be trying to help people, not ban them so they're sitting at home for the next six months. "These people ain't got a clue. They all sit behind their desks and don't have a clue about the brain and they just go 'oh we'll do this, we'll do that'.
"They need to talk to people. He's a top talented footballer and for the next six months [he's] not going to be able to do anything.
"No six months. Just let him play."
Jeff Stelling suggested withholding a punishment for Toney could encourage other players to go in the same direction and bet on football as much as they want.
Merson replied: "To be fair, it's a bad rule in the first place, in my opinion.
"If people want to have a bet, they have a bet. Everybody's different. It's up to them. They don't say 'you can't go out and drink' – but you can't have a bet."
Merson accepted that it would be wrong for players to bet against their own teams, but added: "If you're sitting at home and Barcelona are playing Real Madrid – what's the difference between that and sitting in a nightclub until five in the morning?
"It's a thin line between enjoyment and addiction. I just don't like this 'ban, ban, ban'. It should be a fine and the money goes to charity."
Just caught a bit of Soccer Saturday and it's great to see Paul Merson fighting Brentford's corner regarding Toney's betting. Banning him wouldn't solve anything, just more money for the FA to make and do nothing for those with addictions.— Uzzi (@UzziMajid) March 4, 2023
The drinking analogy was bang on too.
Ivan Toney has since responded after being hit with the eight month ban.
He wrote on Twitter: "Today I have received notification of my 8-month ban from football following a hearing before an FA Regulatory Commission that took place yesterday. I am naturally disappointed that I will be unable to play for the next 8 months.
"The written reasons for the Commission's decision have not yet been published, so I make no further comment at this point other than to thank my family and friends, Brentford FC and our fans for their continued support, through what has been a very difficult time. I now focus on returning to play the game I love next season."
Brentford added: "Brentford FC notes the decision of an independent Regulatory Commission to issue an eight-month ban from all football and football-related activity to Ivan Toney with immediate effect.
"Ivan was charged with breaches of FA rule E8 and had a personal hearing earlier this week. Brentford FC is currently awaiting the publication of the written reasons of the independent Regulatory Commission. We will review them before considering our next steps."