Outrageous surrender to betting agencies over AFL small talk

Michael Filosi Roar Guru

By Michael Filosi,

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    Nathan Bock is not a cheat. He has never tried to fix an AFL match. He has never played at anything less than his full potential in his time at Adelaide and now the Gold Coast.

    Yet Bock felt the wrath of the AFL last week for discussing with a family member the position in which he would play during the Suns round 24 game against Hawthorn.

    Bock’s wallet is now $10,000 lighter for this disclosure, and he will miss the opening two matches of the 2012 AFL Premiership season.

    Bock has been penalised for disclosing so called inside information to friends and family which brought him no financial gain. Bock’s actions did not compromise the integrity of the match, nor was this sensitive information given to friends and family with the intention of assisting them to secure a financial gain.

    The AFL has given no consideration to the fact that information on where a player will line up on the ground is not – in and of itself – ”inside information.”

    It has only become inside information because betting agencies have decided to frame a market around the first goal-kicker in a match, and where a player starts on the field has a significant bearing on this market.

    It is betting agencies that have changed the goal-posts, so to speak, forcing the AFL to react to this adjustment of the betting landscape and sanction players for disclosing information which just a few years ago was of no significance to anyone.

    Information which was previously part of general footy discussion is now viewed as inside information by the AFL.

    How far will this encroachment into what players discuss about their football lives extend?

    If gambling agencies take bets on the colour of Rebecca Judd’s dress at Brownlow night 2012, the next player to get a tattoo sleeve, or the colour of Buddy Franklin’s boots in a certain match, will those concerned have to keep tight-lipped too?

    Will this information also be considered sensitive, because the betting agencies have made it so, and therefore all those involved will be forced to not disclose any details pertaining to the dressing habits of one’s wife, body inking intentions, or choice of footy boots?

    What a joke.

    AFL players are now being asked to treat innocuous questions or discussion with family and friends with the utmost secrecy.

    The AFL has been cornered by betting agencies, which have deemed talking points which would be part of any dinnertime conversation among AFL players and their families as inside information.

    If a player’s father asks if he has been doing goal-kicking practice during the week, should his son be forced to respond with ”No comment?”

    What would the AFL make of the following hypothetical scenario?

    Johnny Playwell is a fringe player on the Fremantle list who plays the first few games of 2012 as a rebounding defender in the Dockers backline. He is told by the coaching staff early one week that he will be moved from the backline to tag Gary Ablett in the Dockers forthcoming match against the Suns.

    Mid-week he catches up with his long-time friend Bruce Opportunist for a coffee.

    The pair have a lively chat about life and footy – as mates do – and Playwell mentions that he has been given the gig tagging Ablett for this Saturday’s match.

    Opportunist works in the lucrative Western Australia mining sector, and is the sort of bloke who thinks nothing of waxing his week’s wage on a good night out. He also played schoolboy footy with Playwell, and lost count of the number of times he watched Playwell burst through the middle of the ground and kick a long goal with his penetrating left boot.

    Opportunist likes a punt, so places $500 on his mate to kick the first goal of the upcoming match at odds of 100-1. He does not tell Playwell he has done this.

    Roll on the Fremantle-Suns match, and Playwell lines up on Ablett for the opening bounce. Fremantle ruckman Aaron Sandilands taps the ball to advantage, and Playwell pushes off his direct opponent and takes possession of the loose ball at pace forward of centre.

    Seeing no unmanned players or leading targets in the Dockers forward line, Playwell runs twenty metres and kicks a long goal from the edge of the centre square to open the scoring. Playwell celebrates his early goal with teammates, but not as much as his mate Opportunist who has just made $50,000.

    The betting agency which took Opportunist’s bet informs the AFL of the unusually large sum placed on Playwell to kick the opening goal. As Playwell high fives his teammates, little does he know that his goal has just made him the subject of an AFL investigation.

    What happens next?

    Playwell made no reference to playing in the forward line in his discussion with Opportunist. He simply mentioned that he would be playing in the midfield, as opposed to his normal position in the backline. Playwell made no financial gain from Opportunist’s actions, and gave this information as part of a more general discussion, with no suggestion to Opportunist that he should use anything they discussed as a means of financial gain.

    This situation and others demonstrate that what can or should be considered inside information has more shades of grey than a Melbourne winter skyline.

    While gambling agencies frame a market for first goal-kicker, almost all information on positional changes therefore become inside information. Can a backline player who has been asked by his coach to push into the midfield more often tell anyone, or would this be considered privy information given that a player is more likely to kick a goal the closer he plays to the forward line?

    Can a player who is named on the interchange bench but is told that he will start on the ground tell his family as much, or will this information be considered sensitive, as it would affect his odds of kicking the first goal of the match?

    The assertion by the AFL that players disclosing where on the ground they will line up is the thin end of the wedge, and can lead to more serious forms of corruption and match fixing is absurd. The parallel with the game of cricket and its current troubles with spot fixing is a long bow to draw.

    I’m amazed that the AFL Players Association hasn’t been more vocal in condemning the actions of the AFL in sanctioning players – who stand to make zero financial gain from disclosing this information – for what constitutes general footy talk.

    The hypocrisy of the AFL in its hardline stance on players disclosing so-called inside information is nothing short of staggering.

    For a decade the AFL denied any awareness that teams were tanking matches for draft picks, completely unwilling to recognise that its competition was compromised and that the lure of priority selections meant teams were taking the field with more incentive to lose than win.

    Now players are being given hefty fines and suspensions for disclosing information that ten years ago was of no interest or significance to anyone.

    If betting agencies are offering a market on first goal-kicker, they need to be prepared to make a loss. Betting agencies are not forced to take bets on this particular aspect of the game.

    The AFL needs to let the betting agencies know as much.

    If the betting agencies decide to take bets on first goal-kicker in a match, this should not mandate that players cannot discuss certain otherwise harmless information with close family and friends.

    Ceasing to penalise players for disclosing information about where they will line up on the field will force betting agencies to either abandon first goal-kicker markets, or have all players at very short odds, which would make the first goal-kicker market an unattractive one for punters to bet on.

    It is the gambling agencies that have changed the game and made otherwise harmless information sensitive. The AFL needs to extricate itself from its all too cosy relationship with betting agencies, show some real leadership and stand up for its players.

    You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • December 19th 2011 @ 8:09am
      Fake ex-AFL fan said | December 19th 2011 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      You raise some very interesting issues. The idea of going through an entire footy season as a player and NEVER discussing anything with family and friends that could conceivably be interpreted as inside information is pretty extraordinary. I also wonder how many investigations will be launched when there’s a big betting plunge on first goal kicker that doesn’t pay off? None one would assume.

    • Roar Guru

      December 19th 2011 @ 9:10am
      The Cattery said | December 19th 2011 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      Agree with sentiment of article, AFL actions border on trying to censor footy talk with family and friends.

    • December 19th 2011 @ 9:30am
      RAF said | December 19th 2011 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      Surely if “Playwell” was fined and suspended but decided to have his day in court and challenge the farcical situation that currently exists the AFL would find it difficult to defend. The current situation is a joke and should be challenged in a court of law.

    • December 19th 2011 @ 9:42am
      sheek said | December 19th 2011 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      This is why I despise betting agencies & casinos.

      They come in the guise of being legitimate operations, then extract massive ‘protection’ from the governments & sports they exploit, simply by being able to pay massive handouts. The hypocrisy is staggering.

      I like the occasional bet, but when & on my terms. Let’s not make these people out to be anything special, because they’re not. What they do best is prey on the weak & gullible. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of humanity that is both weak & gullible.

      Unfortunately, this terrible circumstance will stand simply because the majority of AFL players probably can’t be “bothered” to right this wrong. By the time they realise the import of this decision, it might be too late, they’ll all be prisoners of free speech.

      • December 19th 2011 @ 9:58am
        Fake ex-AFL fan said | December 19th 2011 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        Yep. And remember that they want this protection for the occasional time when a punter gets lucky with an exotic bet. If some muppet puts $10K on Bock to kick the first goal and then he fails to do so, no one steps in and says ‘sorry, that information was dodgy, here’s your $10K back’. It’s a source of some shame to me that my club (Hawthorn FC) now draws a significant income stream from this horrid, predatory industry.

        As for the AFL players, I think they’ve probably decided that this isn’t a battle they can win – if they come out against these rules they’ll be portrayed by the media as wanting to cash in on insider information for betting purposes.

        • Roar Guru

          December 19th 2011 @ 10:36am
          The Cattery said | December 19th 2011 @ 10:36am | ! Report

          That last point is a good one. It’s impossilbe to stand up to the AFL’s actions because it’s so easy for others to draw inferences that something worse is happening – and ultimately, this is precisely what is driving the AFL – but it’s a very, very high bar they have set, perhaps totally unrealistic.

          I mentioned to Brett a few days back, once upon a time, a young footballer would get home on Thursday night after training, and talk footy with his family around the dinner table, it’s such a natural part of life, I can’t see how we can control that.

      • December 19th 2011 @ 11:41am
        nafe said | December 19th 2011 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        with you Sheek, betting agencies are a curse on the game. all the bllody advertising, interruptions and “brought to you by” during play is so F___ing annoying. yet here we are changing the culture of the game to suit these advertisers. geez if the TV deal made over $1bill do we really need this betting money?

        • Roar Guru

          December 19th 2011 @ 11:50am
          The Cattery said | December 19th 2011 @ 11:50am | ! Report

          The time has perhaps come for all the major sports in Australia to sit down and work it out with Government.

          But two important principles remain:

          1. You don’t want this sort of stuff going underground, it’s far better to have it all out in the open; and
          2. if gambling houses are going to profit from sport, then that sport has to get a cut of the action because they are putting on the show.

          • Roar Guru

            December 19th 2011 @ 4:04pm
            Roarchild said | December 19th 2011 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

            I think most people are pretty happy with just picking the winners.

            Those exotic betts really cater for the hardcore which is probably a big slice of money but is also the easiest to manipulate. I really don’t think sports should bother even pretending to protect betting agencies from risk on those bets.

        • December 19th 2011 @ 1:15pm
          sheek said | December 19th 2011 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

          Nafe,

          It’s the gross hypocrisy that makes my blood boil. It’s okay for these betting agencies to suck the life savings out of people, but at the first hint of any “irregularities” they demand punitive action.

      • December 19th 2011 @ 12:51pm
        AdamS said | December 19th 2011 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

        You guys are a bit off base here. For years the betting agencies got rolled by insider trading and largely took it on the chin because it was to a large extent the nature of the beast. As they had no relation to the sports themselves and betting was (rightly) considered as independant of the sport itself unlike in racing, the governing bodies in sport had no incentive to be concerned about teams tanking, deliberately naming incorrect starting lineups only to change them 5 mins before the game, claiming players are injured only to throw them in the team at the last moment, selectively leaking infomation that should be either confidential (or alternately in the public domain) for profit etc..
        With the growth of sports betting, particularly through the corperate bookies there came a pivotal moment. Race clubs, seeing that corperate bookies where profiting from their product started charging what’s called a product fee. For every bet placed (or won, dependign on the model) a small percentage went to the club of origin.
        Sporting groups followed suit, they stuck their hand out and demanded a share. It was they who engaged with the betting industry, not the other way around. The bookies for their part were happy to pay, with a few conditions. a) If they were paying the Sport, they demanded that the sport accept them as legitimate advertisers. Not unreasonable. And b) If they were paying the Sport they wanted the Sport to provide some protection and clean up the insider trading and other dodgy practises. Also not unreasonable.
        Don’t take this as acceptace that the above story is a good thing, they probabaly have gone overboard, but asking them to clean up their act when they are taking the bookies money is not in any way an unrealistic position.

    • December 19th 2011 @ 9:43am
      jlg said | December 19th 2011 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      “Bock’s actions did not compromise the integrity of the match, nor was this sensitive information given to friends and family with the intention of assisting them to secure a financial gain.”

      So we are told by the AFL, who are hardly going to proclaim that it’s own competition is compromised. Could it be that that part of the story was not disclosed? Why would we believe Bock, his mate or the AFL on this point??

      The only two ways to deal with this issue are:
      1. Ban the exotic bets; or
      2. fine teams heavily who don’t line up as selected on Thursday night.

      • December 19th 2011 @ 1:01pm
        AdamS said | December 19th 2011 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

        You can’t “ban exotic bets” The Sporting bodies have some influence over the bookies and work collaborativly on what types of markets are allowed, but only the bookies in Australia who are regulated. You can just as easily bet on the AFL with an offshore book such as Ladbrokes or William Hill, it is no more difficult than betting with an Australian company, in fact in some ways it is easier. This is the nature of the internet and I don’t think it is going anywhere in a hurry.
        Your second option is more feasible, the clubs and players now have to realize that just like a Jockey, what they say and do is important. A way to lessen the burden would be for clubs to simply make more infomation public domain. It’s that or stop charging the bookmakers product fees.

    • Roar Guru

      December 19th 2011 @ 9:44am
      Mark Young said | December 19th 2011 @ 9:44am | ! Report

      I can’t agree with you more Michael.

      There is no reason for otherwise inconsequential conversations between players and their friends and family should be carefully filtered for the sake of the gambling agencies.

      You analogy of the Brownlow Medal dresses is particularly good.

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