Church House Westminster has come under fire for allowing a gambling firm to sponsor a recent televised boxing bout which was held in the same room as the Church of England's general synod meetings.
The two fights, which were broadcast on BT Sport on 28 November and 5 December, featured advertisements for the gambling website 32Red, despite the Church of England's staunch opposition to the practice of gambling and its calls for an overhaul of the industry to protect those vulnerable to becoming embroiled in the habit.
Archbishop Justin Welby has himself previously spoken out about the dangers of the gambling industry, noting that systems such as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOTBs) can cause "great harm".
Retired Christian tax inspector, Ian Lane, told the Church Times that the event was an "inappropriate use of the Church’s premises" and that "the promotion of gaming adds to the offensive nature of it all".
“Whatever possessed those responsible for Church House to accept a booking for two weeks of boxing matches?" he asked. "One suspects that acceptance of the booking was prompted by purely monetary considerations: filthy lucre seemingly overcame any principles.”
Brian Chappell, the founder of Justice for Punters, said the Church of England had inadvertently becoming "part of the normalisation of corporate gambling in society" in deciding to host the events.
He added that senior bishops "should be investigating how their HQ came to be used for a sporting event sponsored by 32Red".
Church House said their decision to host the event was in response to the decimation of the events industry due to the pandemic, and to "enhance awareness of the importance of the industry by showing innovation and creativity, and how event venues can be adapted, transformed, and re-purposed, whilst following Covid-secure measures".
Following the boxing broadcast, Bradley Hill, Audio-Visual and Production Manager of Church House Westminster said that he was "extremely proud" of the "expert teams who have worked side-by-side with the organisers of this event to deliver this exceptional night for British heavyweight boxing".
He added that the historic Grade II listed building offers "a versatile space for unique and unusual events".
"This live event may have taken place behind closed doors," he said, "but to us, it is very much a show and testament for all to see the resilience and innovation of our industry and its people”.
Church House's decision to host the event came just prior to the government announcing the launching of a "major and wide-ranging review" into the regulations that govern the gambling industry. One of the measures, announced by the government last week, will see the age requirement for playing the national lottery raised from 16 to 18 next year.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said that the aim of the review is to tackle "problem gambling in all its forms to protect children and vulnerable people".
Sport minister Nigel Huddleston added: "We're committed to protecting young people from gambling-related harm, which is why we are raising the minimum age for the National Lottery.
"Patterns of play have changed since its inception, with a shift towards online games, and this change will help make sure the National Lottery, although already low-risk, is not a gateway to problem gambling."