Former Ireland stalwart Marcus Horan has identified online gaming addiction as a rising concern for young professional athletes and warned lockdown may have seen players fall into new addictive habits.

Horan, who won 67 caps for his country between 2000 and 2011, now works as Player Development Manager with Rugby Players Ireland and helps Munster players past and present deal with the transition in and out of the professional game.

And while the prop understands online gaming is used by many players as a way to relax, he is keen to increase his own awareness of the increasingly prevalent issue of gaming addiction to ensure players avoid potentially damaging pitfalls.

“We’re very conscious about being educated on what it is, how the issues arise with gaming and how it can be problematic,” he said.

“It’s a new thing for us and I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m from a generation that wouldn’t be up to speed with that.

“Education is key for me on the gaming side of it – we’re quite well versed on gambling and how that can spiral but not so much on gaming, which is probably similar in so many ways.

“We also want to be sure we’re not intruding on a guy who is gaming as a hobby.

“For a lot of guys, it is a way they can relax or communicate with other people, particularly during lockdown.

“But having a lot of down time and boredom was really prevalent in the lockdown and guys tended to go more into the habits they had – or delve into new ones.”

In order to gain further insight on the issue of gaming addiction and gambling harm, Horan has joined EPIC Risk Management’s Pro Sport Advisory Board, the world’s first expert panel to investigate and act upon the risk of the issue affecting professional sports stars or eSports players.

The global collective is made up of leading names from organisations representing professional sports players, eSports experts and gambling industry leaders, who will share best practice, highlight concerns and shape policy through their experience in gambling, gaming, eSports, integrity, athlete welfare and lived experience.

It has been brought together by leading gambling harm minimisation consultancy EPIC Risk Management, which employs a number of current and former professional sports stars as facilitators in their worldwide training and education programmes to warn players across multiple sports of the heightened risk of gaming and gambling addiction in their sector.

Professional athletes are recorded as being four times more likely to develop a problem gambling habit than among those who aren’t involved in elite sports and Horan hopes the global nature of the board will strengthen his expertise in dealing with the issue.

“It’s always been there as a cultural thing around sport,” Horan said.

“While it was never really an issue for me and I didn’t see it was a problem for any of my teammates, over the years I’ve seen the ease of how guys can gamble.

“We’ve gone from the days of lads calling into the bookies on the way to training to everything being done on phones – the access is so much easier.

“I’m not naïve enough to think there aren’t issues over here [in Ireland] with regard to gambling but when you collaborate across a number of sports and countries, you can get stronger.

“Rugby is growing globally – we have a lot of Irish players playing in the US and the UK, along with France and Japan.

“For me to be on an advisory board growing internationally gives us a lot more say in the USA, the UK, and lets our players know we’re there and if there are any issues, they can reach out and see a friendly face.”

EPIC Risk Management Pro Sport Advisory Board. The world’s first panel looking into gaming and gambling harm minimisation for elite sport.