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It is time to put an end to sport’s two-faced gambling hypocrisy

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    Heath Shaw (Image: AFL Media)

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    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.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • February 13th 2013 @ 12:15pm
      Moe Green said | February 13th 2013 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

      I have no problem with gambling agencies and corporate bookies sponsoring teams, having their logos on jumpers, having naming rights on stadiums, running ads about their business during ad breaks etc…

      Its the live betting info that is broadcast mid game together with the how to guide to put the bet on and the spruiking of all the different live betting markets that irks.

      The Tobacco companies used to run ads during the ad breaks, I dont recall them have the Marlboro man in his own little booth at the ground, demonstrating how to light up a fag and blow smoke rings. Like wise the Leagues clubs might run an ad in the ad break during the league, they dont have a guy on the sidelines at half time telling everyone that the $1 machine jackpot at the Leagues Club is at $500k.

      Its very questionable advertising…

      • February 14th 2013 @ 10:49am
        Pot Stirrer said | February 14th 2013 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        I dont think the Advertising of odds during the footy shows is good either. Personally i do find the odds interesting but i think it encourages under age fans to want to have a bet which is not a good thing imo.

    • February 13th 2013 @ 12:38pm
      Mango Jack said | February 13th 2013 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

      Agree completely, Glenn, though we should not ignore the link between banned substances and match fixing. That is, players are given banned substances, not to enhance their performance, but so they can be blackmailed into fixing a match.

      Gambling in sport is insidious. In a couple of short years we have gone from the odd bet on the result of a game, maybe with margins, but with little promotion, to a full scale partnership between sporting entities and the major betting agencies. We have Centrebet Statdium, betting sponsors disguised as commentators, not to mention the odious Tom Waterhouse smirking on our screens every few minutes.

      The degree of penetration of gambling in pro sport here is incredible. And with it comes influence. The major agencies are so embedded in sport now that there will be fuming outrage at the suggestion that gambling advertising should be banned, or even scaled back. We’ll have Gus Gould and Ray Hadley frothing at the mouth during games, just as they did when the poker machine laws were being trialled.

      It’s a spiral of mutually assured destruction, as scandal after scandal eats away at the credibility of sport, leaving fans disillusioned and eventually disinterested.

      • February 13th 2013 @ 1:09pm
        MadMonk said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

        the potential grooming of match fixers through PED’s is an angle that has not got much attention.

        As for the grooming of gamblers by our sporting organisations and commentators this needs to be stopped now.

      • February 13th 2013 @ 1:15pm
        Will Sinclair said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:15pm | ! Report


        Despite my thoughts below, I find myself agreeing with almost everything you have said.

        As someone who likes a punt, I am still stunned by the amount of attention given to gambling in sport (and the ease with which you can have a punt – especially on your phone). It’s exploded in seemingly a few short years.

        But I’m not sure there is any link between the mainstream betting agencies sponsoring teams / games / stadiums and the illegal fixing of sporting results. As I say below, I think the mainstream agencies probably play an important role in LIMITING illegal activity.

        • February 13th 2013 @ 1:29pm
          Mango Jack said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

          I agree, Will, and I think there are 2 separate problems, under the general subject of “gambling in sport”. Firstly, the covert, illegal market, which is at the heart of the more serious corruption of sport through PEDs and match fixing. Secondly, the proliferation of gambling advertising and sponsorship, which is creating an unhealthy dependence on this industry, with associated grooming, etc.

          I would like to see gambling advertising phased out, especially the announcement of odds during games, dressed up as commentary (notice how the betting spruikers wear the same uniform as the real commentary team?). I also think that any player found guilty of match fixing should be banned from the sport for life. They have trashed their game and don’t deserve to participate again, let alone make a living from it.

        • Columnist

          February 13th 2013 @ 1:36pm
          Glenn Mitchell said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

          Will, in these times perception is every bit as important as reality. Both advertising of betting agencies and sport accepting their profits as part of their revenue stream is something that is not necessary. It is the height of hypocrisy for sports to hit players with a sledgehammer – and rightly so – if they utilise the services of a club sponsor. I am not sure if there is any other such example that results in such a heavy penalty in the sporting environment. It seems totally incongruous that sport should be a vehicle for the promotion of a service that itself is loathe to embrace.

          • February 13th 2013 @ 1:52pm
            Moe Green said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

            You are right Glenn, however the hypocrisy is only contained within each individual sport.

            Rugby League players can bet on AFL games, soccer games, horse racing, papal elections etc…and vice versa, all of which are services provided by their sponsor.

          • February 13th 2013 @ 2:04pm
            Will Sinclair said | February 13th 2013 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

            It’s a good point, Glenn.

            And as clubs increase their reliance on gambling sponsorship as a revenue stream, then it’s going to get harder to unwind in the future.

    • February 13th 2013 @ 12:42pm
      Mendip said | February 13th 2013 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

      I’m not sure what the answer is – do we let betting go underground where there is no monitoring and after the Tandy affair the betting agencies didnt want to ban first scorer options which is where they would have been stung….

      • February 13th 2013 @ 1:12pm
        MadMonk said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

        I just want them to stop advertising sports betting and talking about the odds during broadcasts. My 10 and 12 y.o. kids have this understanding of gambling, price and odds because any sport we watch is bombarded with this shameless gambling marketing.

        It is grooming plain and simple.

        • February 13th 2013 @ 1:17pm
          Will Sinclair said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

          Agree Monk – the spruiking of odds during the broadcast has to stop.

          Even as a punter, I find my skin crawling whenever the commentators start talking about gambling during a sports event. Or when they cross to some smiling rep from one of the companies.

          It’s a shocker.

    • February 13th 2013 @ 1:10pm
      Will Sinclair said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

      Sorry Glenn, but I can’t agree with you.

      The “mainstream” Australian betting agencies – those that are involved in advertising and sponsorship in Australian sports – are among the most regulated in the World.

      Indeed, they are required to report any unusual betting activity to the relevant regulators and the sporting bodies themselves – the Ryan Tandy affair came to light for this exact reason. As long as they are regulated, then they will continue to provide valuable information to the authorities, assist in working against illegal activity, and make it extremely difficult to pull off a sting using one of these betting agencies.

      The dangers of exotic betting and match fixing are found almost exclusively in unregulated markets, bookies largely operating in Asia (or so I understand).

      I am as uncomfortable as anyone with the amount of advertising for betting agencies these days – and I think they should be immediately banned from placing ads spruiking the odds as part of a sports coverage – but to attack them as the source of the problem, or to try and limit their activities, is counter productive.

      • Columnist

        February 13th 2013 @ 1:30pm
        Glenn Mitchell said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

        I am sorry Will but I don’t quite follow your logic. On the one hand you wish to immediately ban betting advertising during sporting broadcasts, and I presume, on the scoreboards at venues. And yet you are happy to allow these organisations to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of sponsorship, and by extension, advertising to sports bodies. I am not attacking, as you state, these agencies for being the source of the problem but merely the hypocrisy that sporting codes share with them. If none of those associated with sport can have anything at all to do with gambling, and the penalties for those that do are very substantial, surely the nexus between the pair should be severed.

        • February 13th 2013 @ 2:11pm
          Will Sinclair said | February 13th 2013 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

          Hi Glenn,

          I can understand why you’re confused – because I am making (or trying to anyway!) two points:

          1) I think the advertising of gambling as an inherent part of sports broadcasts should be stopped immediately.

          There is a very big difference between passively advertising a brand (Centrebet, Sportsbet etc) through sponsorship as part of a broad marketing strategy, and actively encouraging people to gamble during an event. Especially when you use established commentators to “normalise” this behaviour.

          2) I don’t see a link between the sports sponsorship of mainstream betting agencies and illegal fixing of matches by players.

          (Although – you make a very good point above about the importance of perception, and it’s something I hadn’t considered.)

          • Columnist

            February 13th 2013 @ 2:24pm
            Glenn Mitchell said | February 13th 2013 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

            Will, the issue that resulted in a $20,000 fine & eight-match suspension to Heath Shaw and a $10,000 fine to Nick Maxwell in the AFL was as a result of a $20 bet placed through a mainstream betting agency. It was a case of micro- betting undertaken through a legitimate and legal betting operation.

    • Roar Guru

      February 13th 2013 @ 1:31pm
      The Bush said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

      I am not sure banning something so mainstream is a good idea. Phase it out? Perhaps, in conjunction with a government campaign to reduce gambling a la smoking, but don’t just ban it. All banning it will do is drive it underground and then you’ll have a “War on Gambling” and I can guarantee that no war like that has ever been won…

      • Columnist

        February 13th 2013 @ 1:41pm
        Glenn Mitchell said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

        Bush, I am not suggesting at all that mainstream betting agencies should be banned. I merely do not believe in blanket advertising as it currently exists during sporting events and I find it completely hypocritical for organisations to accept part of the profits from an industry that they totally ban within their ranks as a way of boosting their own coffers.

        Nowadays, almost everyone owns a smart phone. If you wish to ascertain the betting market or trends on anything you are free to do so. We do not need to have it actively promoted through sporting broadcasts and on scoreboards at venues.

    • Roar Guru

      February 13th 2013 @ 1:37pm
      TomC said | February 13th 2013 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

      My wonderful, old-fashioned mum was dead set against us kids being exposed to gambling.

      I strongly suspect that if there had been as much integration of gambling promotion into sports coverage when I was growing up as there is now, that I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch sport in the home.

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