PARIS – Don't laugh. There's nothing funny about the gambling industry's latest wheeze to sink its teeth even deeper into football and its fans.
We're talking here about David Ginola. So silky as a player for Newcastle and Tottenham; so ridiculous now with his car-crash campaign for the FIFA presidency.
Ginola has zero chance of unseating Sepp Blatter. FIFA's election and ethics rules will almost certainly keep him off the May ballot. After Thursday's passing of the entry deadline, "Team Ginola" should fade away.
But that's not the point here. This was about making a splash. In pocketing 250,000 pounds (335,000 euros; US$375,000) from bookmaker Paddy Power for this stunt, Ginola became the latest Trojan horse in the gambling and gaming industry's creeping and creepy embrace of football.
"I'm here today to talk about love" were the Frenchman's seductive opening words at his campaign launch in London this month.
But the targets were our wallets and spending habits, not our hearts. That much was clear from the Paddy Power branding.
Bet. Bet again. Bet some more.
That is the message that football, more than most other sports, is mainlining into our homes, helped by names like Ginola and teams lending their cachet, stadiums, jerseys and players to the industry that had cash to splash when the 2008 financial crisis hobbled other sponsors.
"It's eyeballs we're after," 12Bet executive Rory Anderson, quoted in the Daily Mail, said when the online bookmaker became the name on Hull City's shirt for this Premier League season.
And how about this blurb from Sky Bet, title sponsor since 2013 of England's three divisions below the Premier League. It reads like a plug for Fifty Shades of Grey.
Sport "matters more when there's money on it," it says. "There's more passion, more pleasure and more pain."
Whoa. What ever happened to sport for sport's sake, for the buzz of competition, not a bet? How quaint. That was before online bookmakers offered odds on anything and everything, from match results and goals scored to which team will win the coin toss or take the first corner, and before their relentless advertising.
Sports and gambling have, of course, long gone together, feeding off each other's success and growth. Tuning in for results of football betting pools, which offered big jackpots for small stakes, was a Saturday afternoon ritual for many 20th Century English families.
But gambling advertising wasn't as in-your-face as now. In the UK, which liberalized gambling advertising in 2007, adults' exposure to gambling commercials on television soared five-fold in eight years to 2012, regulator Ofcom found. The increase was three-fold for children aged 4-15.
Asking your kids to make tea during half-time breaks won't shield them from the bombardment, not with gambling ads flashing throughout matches on pitch-side light-boards. Hull against Aston Villa on Feb. 10 will pit two Asian online bookmakers against each other. Villa's shirt sponsor is dafabet, a name that works better in Chinese, where "dafa" means "big wealth." Stoke and Burnley players are billboards for Bet365 and Fun88 (another name that plays on the Chinese word to get rich).
All this in a sport grappling with the increasing danger of gambling-related match-fixing and with ample examples of gambling-addicted players who frittered away their wealth.
One of those is Kevin Twaddle, a former player for Motherwell and other Scottish clubs who told his story in the biography, "Life On The Line: How to Lose a Million and So Much More." He no longer gambles and has delivered talks to other players about the risks.
Twaddle takes a very dim view of Ginola's Paddy Power-backed grab for FIFA.
"It's an absolute disgrace," he said in a phone interview. "It's great for Paddy Power. But I mean you're talking about one of the biggest, powerfulest jobs in football and all you're getting to hear about is Paddy Power."
"It just makes like a mockery of football."
Imagine, for a moment, a Paddy Power-financed FIFA president. It won't happen; FIFA's ethics rules should see to that. But the mere thought of the gambling industry even attempting to place a stooge at the very top of football makes the prospect of another Blatter term seem perhaps not quite so bad.
And that isn't funny at all.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester