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The rugby world should take Greg Growden's Wallabies match-fixing allegations seriously

(Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)
Expert
10th March, 2019
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6672 Reads

How seriously should the Greg Growden allegations of possible match-fixing by three Wallabies “several years ago” be taken by rugby authorities in Australia and by World Rugby officials?

Very seriously. It seems to me that Growden has presented a series of allegations which need to, at the very least, be thoroughly investigated.

Let’s look at exactly what Growden wrote as the lead item in his ‘Ruck and Maul’ column in Friday’s Sydney Morning Herald:

“Rugby Australia will be contacted by high-ranking sporting officials who have been concerned about the possibility of match fixing of a Wallabies match several years ago.

“The officials have serious doubts about the behaviour of at least three Wallabies players – all of whom still have considerable links to Australian Rugby – either in an on- or off-field capacity.

“It involves a match Australia was strongly favoured to win. The opposition were at highly attractive odds with several betting agencies. The Wallabies lost the match following numerous strange incidents, including dubious forward passes, easy tackles being missed, confounding knock-ons and easy midfield kicks going nowhere near their target.”

On the face of it, this is hardly unusual. But here is Growden’s kicker to these allegations:

“Adding to the concerns was rugby officials had been aware for some time of close links between several players and a controversial horse racing identity. They were also understood to be friends with a SP bookmaker. The players were sighted – individually or as a group – with either the racing identity or the SP bookie on numerous occasions both in Australia and overseas. One experienced player, who had financial issues, appeared to be ‘the ring-leader’.”

Now, these are allegations that can be tested, one would think.

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And there is more.

According to Growden: “Several Australian rugby identities were at the time deeply concerned about this Wallabies loss, prompting a ‘top secret’ investigation. Apart from team officials being questioned, the investigation involved contacting Australian betting agencies to check whether there were any unusual betting trends on that match…

“One of the concerned officials told Ruck and Maul this week: ‘This issue has to again be looked into. Our suspicions were originally raised due to the very strange mistakes made by usually reliable Australian players during that again. Some errors are glaring. It’s like watching Tiger Woods miss a two-inch putt, over and over again. Very odd.'”

Discussion of all of this needs to be conducted carefully for obvious reasons.

No names must be put forward or implied. Care, too, must be exercised to ensure that there is no obvious pointer to the match concerned.

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You have to look no further than the 57–28 thumping by the Crusaders against a woeful Chiefs side over the weekend to see that “usually reliable” players can make “very strange mistakes” and glaring errors. Such performances are a normal part of rugby and, indeed, professional sport.

The Chiefs, admittedly, were not expected to defeat the Crusaders.

But it is true to say, as well, that if we are looking for betting stings every time a leading team loses abjectly and its main players make some errors that are “glaring”, then we’d be concerned several times a year in the various rugby tournaments.

So the fact that some Wallabies played abysmally in a lost match the team was expected to win is relevant, but not the critical issue.

The critical issue is the allegation of a betting sting and the alleged links between several Wallabies, either “individually or as a group” with a racing identity or an SP bookie “on numerous occasions both in Australia and overseas.”

Now these allegations, I believe, could be checked.

If the evidence is produced that there had been contact between several Wallabies in the past and a “racing identity” or an SP bookie “on numerous occasions” as has been alleged, then Rugby Australia has a problem on its hands.

In The Australian on Saturday, Wayne Smith, in an article headed ‘After sandpapergate anything’s believable but fix follies hardly compelling’ asked the question: “But what are the chances of such evidence existing after all these years? What sort of evidence would still stand up in the court of public opinion, let alone in a court of law?”

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Good questions.

You would expect that Growden, after putting himself on the line with his specific allegations about a fix, would have the evidence to support this claim.

Having worked for the Herald for many years, I would be surprised if the explosive allegations had not been ‘lawyered’ very intensively to discover how reliable Growden’s evidence it.

I notice, for instance, that several days after the article was published, it remains on the SMH website.

Moreover, on Friday afternoon, the Herald doubled down with Tom Decent (‘”I hope there is nothing to it”: Hooper reacts to match-fixing bombshell’) getting a response from the Australian captain Michael Hooper – “I hope there is nothing to it” – and quoting a “concerned official” voicing his suspicions.

Michael Hooper

Michael Hooper has said he hopes there’s nothing to the Wallabies allegations. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Back now to Wayne Smith and his (attempted?) demolition job on the Growden allegations.

Smith deconstructed a match that “Australia could have won, should have won, ended in defeat. It was galling … but it wasn’t suspicious. Until Growden made it so.”

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John O’Neill, the chief executive of the then Rugby AU from 1995–2004 and again from 2007–2012, was interviewed by Smith. In those 14 years, O’Neill asserted, “there was no investigation for match-fixing.”

The other chief executives, Gary Flowers, Bill Pulver and Raelene Castle, have all also denied starting up investigations into match-fixing.

Rugby Australia issued this statement not long after the Growden allegation was published:

“A headline attached to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald today suggested Rugby Australia had investigated a Wallabies Test match ‘from several years ago in relation to the possibility of match fixing.

“Rugby Australia wishes to confirm it has seen no evidence in regards to inappropriate betting activity or match fixing and has no record of any such investigation occurring in the past.

“Rugby Australia takes any allegation of match fixing very seriously and would always thoroughly investigate should any person or entity ever provide information to the Integrity Unit.”

According to Smith, too, the headline to the SMH story, ‘Wallabies match-fixing investigation should be reopened, says official’, “appears to be ‘inaccurate and misleading.'”

How can something be re-opened, he asks, when Rugby Australia says it has not previously been opened?

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This would be a palpable point, except for the fact that Smith himself seems to blow it up:

“Why, one wonders, have these officials waited until now to express their disquiet? If they had suspicions of match-fixing … hell, if they had evidence of it … why has it taken ‘several years’ for them to come forward? Unless, of course, he is talking about World Rugby’s Integrity Unit officials or officials of Australia’s National Integrity of Sport Unit, in which case they might be acting on information only recently received … from a criminal perhaps, seeking a lighter sentence in exchange for information.”

That still leaves us with Growden’s assertion that there was, “at the time,” a “top secret investigation” during which “team officials” were questioned and Australian betting agencies checked for betting trends “on that match.”

Apparently, according to Growden, the investigation broke down because “dubious sporting bets” were “near impossible to detect” at the time because of “the variety of ways to camouflage ‘the sting’.”

So, according to Growden, the alleged match-fixing was the subject of some sort of investigation. The investigation got nowhere because it was impossible to establish where or even whether the alleged betting took place.

The point here is that, according to Growden, there was some sort of investigation, which did not amount, apparently, to an official, fully-fledged investigation.

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If that is correct, then so to is the SMH’s headline.

But whether it was correct as far as the truth of the matter is concerned is something that needs to be investigated.

I have gone through all these matters as forensically as I can.

As far as possible, I have let Growden make his allegations and Smith refute them in their own words.

Where the matter lies, in my view, is this.

Growden needs to inform us when his “high-ranking sports officials” contact Rugby Australia with specific information of historic match-fixing.

And then, when (if?) this happens, Rugby Australia has to get to the bottom of these allegations.

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A high punt in rugby, after all, is only as good as its follow-up.