Sunday, 5 September 2010

Betting Scandals in Sport: An unwanted and irremovable evil

I returned home from holiday to discover it had been a dramatic two weeks in sport. The spot-fixing charges against the Pakistan trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir from the Lords Test comfortably overshadowed the others though.

“Clearly the threat is that the events at Lord's are merely the gas bubbles on a huge swamp of skulduggery.”

These are the words The Guardian's Paul Hayward on the latest story of corruption in sport. His bleak and sinister view on modern sport may have some validity, even if we would hope that it didn't, and I thought I would offer my opinion on the problem in a more general sense.

The accusation facing the Pakistan trio is the latest in a line of betting scandals surrounding not only cricket but all sports. Modern sports have, indisputably, become money making industries.

One of the main revenues from sport is betting. As coverage and interest in sports continues to increase it is understandable that the opportunity for match fixing or spot fixing will follow the same trend. It is an unavoidable truth.

Betting scandals have taken place in most sports. Matt Le Tisier has admitted to attempting to kick a ball immediately out of play at the start of a match so as to win money on a bet involving the time of the first throw-in. Earlier this year John Higgins was suspended from snooker for accepting money to fix the outcome of frames.

It is not unique to cricket. Illegal drug use in athletics and cycling is another form of attempting to fix the outcome of an event, according to Paul Hayward.

Incidents of cheating, to use a general all encompassing term, will always drag the integrity of any given sport into question. Sports are enjoyed because of their uncertainty and unpredictability. When it becomes evident that a match is no longer an even or fair contest, with the outcome being in some or any way predetermined, the credibility of it diminishes.

Deciphering just how much corruption there is in sport is extremely difficult, despite the News of the World's best efforts of late. We would like to believe that these are rare cases but most would accept that this is not the case.

Just today Yasir Hameed has stated that agents in Pakistani cricket act as little more than bookmakers. The batsmen claimed the Pakistani team made £1.8 million in their Test against Australia in Sydney. The problem is clearly not isolated to the Lord's Test but is constant temptation on offer to the players.

What can be done? How can it be eradicated? In reality, it can't. More severe punishments may go some way to prevent it happening as often. Life time bans and massive fines would be a deterrent but the issue can never be fully removed. Ultimately, as long as sport attracts such vast financial interest it will always be plagued by money hungry opportunists.

It must be accepted that corruption is an unwanted but irremovable facet of modern sport. The corruption fades into the shadows until stories, like the one involving the Pakistani cricketers, allow it rear its ugly head.

As I say, it is hard to know who widespread the problem is. It is certainly more common than we are told or know. It need not, however, cast doubt over every sporting event.

Every no ball, every missed pot, every time a world record or any suspect sporting moment ought not to be met with unquantified pessimism and cynicism.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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