Outrageous surrender to betting agencies over AFL small talk

Michael Filosi Roar Guru

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    Nathan Bock fined $10,000 for the benefit of betting agencies? Slattery Images

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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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