It is time to put an end to sport’s two-faced gambling hypocrisy
Heath Shaw (Image: AFL Media)
It is often said that Australians will bet on two flies climbing up a wall. If you were a gambler in days gone past that was a good way to sustain your penchant.
Nowadays, there is no need to invent situations on which to place a bet as most gambling agencies have myriad markets available on which you can risk your hard-earned.
Last Thursday, while Justice Minister Jason Clare was releasing the outcome of a year-long Australian Crime Commission investigation into illegal and nefarious practices in sport he was flanked by the kingpins of some of the highest profile codes in the country.
The CEOs of the Australian Football League, Cricket Australia, Football Federation Australia and National Rugby League, stood beside the minister with countenances that bore the realisation that all was not right in their respective bailiwicks.
Most of the media coverage in the days since has centred on the use and supply of performance enhancing drugs in sporting circles.
As a result, perhaps the most sinister aspects of the ACC report have been placed on the backburner.
While the supply and use of performance enhancing substances is undoubtedly a major concern for Australian sport the potential involvement of underworld figures in the area of gambling on sporting outcomes is a bigger issue.
Earlier this month Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, announced that 380 soccer matches were currently under suspicion for having been manipulated for gambling purposes by Asian-based organised crime syndicates.
The matches involved spanned 15 countries with over 400 players, match officials, club officials and criminals under investigation.
By the time Europol went public with its concerns over 50 individuals had been arrested and charged with assorted activities relating to betting stings in sport.
This investigation comes hot on the heels of recent widespread gambling scandals in Italian and Turkish soccer leagues.
Up until the release of the ACC report most Australians would have believed that such events did not occur in leagues in this country.
Now, we have to think again.
And in doing so, perhaps governments and sporting bodies need to address the current state of sports gambling in Australia.
One of the best places to start would be for sporting organisations to can the idea of allowing betting agencies to sponsor them.
Even prior to the release of the ACC report there was a glaring hypocrisy surrounding the acceptance of gambling profits in the underwriting of sports organisations.
Gambling by participants on their own sport is a long held no-no.
In fact, it is one of the key platforms that underpins the whole notion of free and fair sport.
The recent Damien Oliver saga had many people aghast at the thought of a jockey placing bets on another horse in a race in which he was participating.
In the AFL, players caught gambling on the code have been held up as sporting pariahs.
In 2011, Collingwood’s Heath Shaw was fined $20,000 and suspended for eight weeks for contributing $10 towards a $20 bet on his captain, Nick Maxwell kicking the first goal in the round nine clash against Adelaide.
Maxwell, having actually laid no money on the ‘scheme’, was fined $10,000 after it was discovered that members of his family had placed three separate bets on the same outcome.
A total of $30,000 in fines and eight weeks on the sidelines all for a $20 wager.
It may sound harsh, but for the sake of upholding its integrity the AFL did the right thing – in that regard at least.
Where it should be called into question however is its ongoing reliance on gambling related sponsorship.
Given its strict adherence to a no exceptions policy when it comes to its participants – that also includes administrators, match officials, coaches and support personnel – surely the correct message to send to all those involved in the sport is to sever ties with betting agencies altogether.
The same should apply to any code that has sponsorship associations with betting agencies.
Many may query the presence of alcohol related sponsorship but there remains a distinct difference – unless the products concerned are consumed to excess, or in a timeframe that does not fit within the club’s ethos – there is no problem or penalty handed to those who imbibe.
Tobacco sponsorship was pulled by the government as a result of the harm smoking can do to health, regardless the experts will tell you, of how much is consumed.
When the case for banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship was first discussed it brought about countless Henny Penny impersonations with myriad administrators telling anyone who would listen that the sky was about to fall in.
Some argued until they were blue in the face about the damage culling tobacco sponsorship would do to sport in this country.
Yet, despite the prophecies of a sporting Armageddon, it didn’t eventuate and nowadays the public would never consider a return to the ‘bad old days’.
Sporting associations will try and plead the same case this time around if there is a fear of gambling related sponsorship being axed by government legislation.
Those that are the guardians of sport should not wait for a message on high from Canberra, but rather make the call themselves to break the hypocritical nexus that currently exists.
The other necessary act is to ban micro-betting – the practice of being able to bet on events within an event.
We have seen how easy this type of wagering can impact on proceedings on the field of play – the 2010 sting that resulted in the banning of three Pakistani Test cricketers for their involvement in a scheme to bowl deliberate no-balls at Lord’s being a classic example.
The ability to bet on the likes of who will kick the first goal or who will open the bowling are the sort of things that are easily open to manipulation should players be enticed to hop into bed with illegal betting syndicates.
While issues such as these may seem fairly inconsequential they have the ability to lead to larger, more result warping practices.
Once you have entered into a ‘contract’ with organised crime syndicates and you are drawn into their shady world the ability to be manipulated even further is an ever present threat not easily escaped.
Changes need to be made to the legislation regarding sports gambling in Australia and they need to be applied as quickly as possible.
It is pointless having government ministers and sporting CEOs professing their concerns as to the affect gambling can have on sport in this country if they are not willing to take the necessary steps to enforce change.
After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.