Gaming addiction cases amongst footballers has trebled since the coronavirus pandemic, according to leading psychotherapist Steve Pope.
Pope, an addiction counsellor, has stated that he is currently helping 15 professional football players and 30 semi-professional players.
“The number of players coming to me has trebled since the first lockdown,” started Pope. “When football stopped and footballers had nothing else to do, gaming became even more appealing.”
‘Gaming disorder’ has been listed as a mental health condition by the World Health Organisation since 2018, leading to the NHS opening the first ever National Centre for people who have Gaming Disorders in October 2019. However, the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns that followed, has only accelerated these cases to unprecedented numbers.
Pope added: “When football stopped and footballers had nothing else to do, gaming became even more appealing. Now, even though training and games are back on, it is a problem because players never quite let go of it from the first lockdown when it was running riot.
“Footballers have obsessive personalities and they have more time on their hands than anybody to play. It is mentally destructive. It is a silent epidemic and it never gets the attention it needs.
“We are treating one player with a non-League club who had a game called off on the Saturday, so he started gaming on the Friday night and went straight through to training on the Monday. But don't think Premier League players are immune. They travel so much, they're in hotel rooms and have time to fill.”
Jeff Whitley, a former Manchester City player said: “Some people may not see it as a problem compared to drink, drugs or gambling. They may not see it as harmful as that and they might not see the symptoms. But some of the symptoms can be similar to other addictions, because people obsess about drinking or gambling and people can obsess about gaming.”
“It's asking, 'Am I gaming because I enjoy gaming or am I gaming because I have to game? Is my gaming interfering with other parts of my life, such as my relationship or my job?' If other areas in your life are getting neglected, that is a clear sign there is an issue that needs to be sorted.
“Some lads might be gaming until all hours in the morning. If somebody is playing for 10 hours straight, day in, day out, they are not eating or sleeping properly. If they are doing that, their body will not let them perform to how clubs want them to at training. It's something clubs need to be aware of.”
The PFA have reportedly been asked by clubs to discuss gaming habits with their players and mental health charity Sporting Chance, set up by former England captain Tony Adams, is taking calls on gaming and aim to begin educational sessions on the subject.
Author: Lewis Cockburn