Swedish international footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic could face a three-year ban from the sport due to his ongoing partnership with Malta-based operator BetHard.
The AC Milan striker’s company is the fourth largest investor in the online sportsbook – which reported a profits before tax of £25.76 million profit after tax in 2019 – amounting to a total share of 10%, according to Swedish outlet Aftonbladet.
Ibrahimovic secured his position as BetHard’s global brand ambassador in March 2018, causing some controversy in England, leading to an official investigation by the Football Association (FA).
The governing body’s rules prohibit active players from promoting, consulting with or being involved with betting operators in any form, prompting a probe into the then Manchester United striker’s relationship with the company.
Speaking at the time of his appointment at BetHard, Ibrahimovic remarked: ”I have obviously been intensively courted by betting companies throughout my career, but up until now I have not been presented to anything that has triggered me.
”With BetHard, there was something different. It’s a company with Swedish roots, the founders are from my hometown and they are true challengers who really wants to do things differently.”
His partnership with BetHard also courted criticism in his native Sweden, where the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) has been monitoring the situation for around three years, as reported by Aftonbladet.
The international’s association with BetHard has been touted as the reason behind his absence from the national team’s absence during the 2019 World Cup in Russia, a tournament he was widely expected to participate in.
Speaking in 2018, Hakan Sjostrand, General Secretary of the SFA, said: “According to FIFA’s regulations and code of ethics, no player may directly or indirectly own shares in betting companies.
“I stick to the facts and can only account for what applies to all nations and players who will participate in the World Cup.”
Furthermore, Ibrahimovic also appeared in a Europa League qualifier against Shamrock Rovers last year and featured in Sweden’s World Cup qualifying tie against Georgia just last month,
These actions may be in breach of FIFA and UEFA regulations regarding sports integrity, which prohibit players with financial interests in gambling firms from competing in international tournaments.
Possible sanctions for violating these rules include fines in addition to a maximum suspension of three years from all football-related activities.
When approached by the Daily Mail for comment, Erik Sharp, CEO of BetHard, said: “These are questions that should be asked to FIFA. We have an agreement with Zlatan that we follow and if problems arise, we will handle it together with him.”
However, the SFA’s Sjostrand did not comment on the current situation in 2021, only saying: “I do not speculate on possible sanctions. But of course continue to push for clarity in FIFA’s regulations as there is frankly a lot of ambiguity in how it should be interpreted.”