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3rd October 2013
Good afternoon, friends,
In this issue of Punters’ Verdict…
As sports-betting enthusiasts there’s one thing we want to know for sure before we put our money down. We want to know that we are betting on a level playing field…
But more and more frequently we are encountering situations where sports-events are contaminated with cheating and corruption driven by the easy money that sports-betting markets make available to unscrupulous, cynical and criminally-inclined elements.
Hardly a day goes by without reports of wrong-doing or suspicious activity in one sport or another somewhere around the world.
So prevalent is corruption in sport becoming (whatever form it takes) I’m inclined to believe the novelty is already wearing off and that most sports fans are inclined to see it as just ‘one of those things’ – something that runs alongside sport and betting; something that simply has to be accepted with a shrug of the shoulders.
Just take a look at the range of stories we’ve been confronted with over the last week or so…
Corruption in football – I’ve written extensively on my belief that betting is football’s biggest problem going forward. And every passing day serves to confirm my fears. Just this week news reached us that Singapore police have arrested 14 people thought to be ringleaders of a global football match-fixing network. And we’re not just talking about local or low-level games. Some of the matches targeted by the fixers were UEFA Champions League games and international fixtures – exactly the kind of games we’re led to believe are ‘clean’ and which we might have money riding on.
The fixers have already infiltrated English football – that’s the view of Chris Eaton, a former FIFA security advisor and the world’s leading authority on match-rigging. He says that football authorities everywhere, including those in England, have failed to even properly investigate match-fixing – let alone stamp it out.
Brits guilty of fixing in Australia? Eaton’s comments come on the back of four British players being charged with eight counts (each) of engaging in or facilitating corrupt betting while playing in the second-tier of the Victoria Premier League for Melbourne-based Southern Stars. ‘There are clear connections between what’s happened in Australia and groups in England,’ Eaton said.
Links to the Conference South – British players caught up in the Australian betting scandal spent at least part of the 2012-13 season playing football in the Conference South for AFC Hornchurch and Eastbourne Borough. In March the FA felt the need to contact all 22 teams in the Southern Conference to remind them of their responsibilities after bookmakers reported suspicious betting patterns on Conference games. The FA decided not to instigate a ‘formal’ investigation – a decision that might turn out to look remarkably lax in hindsight.
Remember Peter Swann? He was one of the footballers embroiled in the 1964 British football betting scandal. He was jailed and banned from the game. Speaking to Indian Express earlier this year he claimed corruption in the game today is worse than it ever was and he believes football is still firmly in the grip of the match fixers. Given how things are panning out we’re inclined to believe Mr. Swann knows what he is talking about.
Of course, football isn’t the only sport with betting problems…
Snooker has been under the microscope following the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association’s decision to ban Stephen Lee from the game for 12-years after finding the former World number 5 guilty of involvement in fixing 7 games between 2008 and 2009 (the proceeds of the fixes were said to be worth £50k to Lee).
The WPBSA has handed down what is effectively a lifetime ban – putting down a strong marker that will serve both as a warning to other snooker players tempted to stray from the path of righteousness and as an example to other sports when dealing with transgressors of their own.
Lee pleads innocence and says he intends to appeal. That’s a matter for him. In the meantime the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association’s disciplinary head, Nigel Mawer, paints Lee as a one-off – a singular rogue element in the game: ‘All the intelligence on irregular betting comes to me…. Hand on heart I believe it is a very, very clean sport. I have only had to investigate four incidents in 7000 matches and two of those have led to suspensions, which puts it in context.’
But ‘Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan painted a different picture on his Twitter account shortly after the Lee decision was handed down. ‘No need to worry if you got nothing to hide. But plenty of people have got loads to hide…. I’ve heard there are many more players who throw snooker matches. I suppose Steve Lee was just caught out. They will probably fine me for talking about it. They don’t like you doing that. [They] like to keep things under the carpet.’
World Snooker chairman, Barry Hearn, challenged O’Sullivan to expand on his claims. O’Sullivan claimed his remarks had been taken out of context. We wonder how that is possible. That said we’ve heard nothing since – but that doesn’t mean there is not more to come.
Quite clearly, the snooker authorities believe the game is pretty much clean. But for my money that means nothing. As far as I’m concerned they’ll believe anything that serves to protect the game’s image.
Three years ago when John Higgins was exposed as a match-fixer by a newspaper (he appeared on video agreeing to throw matches) the same snooker authorities bought into his fantastical claims that he only went along with the match-fixing idea because he thought the Russian mafia was behind it and he feared for his safety. If you believe that then I suppose you’re capable of believing anything.
I find it difficult to accept the notion that snooker won’t have more issues buried beneath the surface just waiting to be revealed. And, whilst I’m pointing fingers, it can’t be long before the sport of darts is dragged kicking and screaming into the examination room…
I’ve had my suspicions for some time now. The nature of the sport, the climate surrounding it and its popularity as a betting medium render it wide open to abuse, corruption and betting fraud. If I’ve come to that conclusion then you can bet your vital organs there are crooked players and punters already taking advantage of it. Many are the times I’ve watched televised games and found myself wondering what’s going on.
Of course, I have no proof. I can make no direct accusations. I don’t have access to the data from which betting patterns (suspicious and otherwise) can be constructed and examined. But it won’t be long before those that do set the alarm bells ringing.
You heard it here first, folks…
Regular readers will know exactly how I feel about the recent doping scandal at Godolphin and associated issues. If you want to read my take on things you can do so at the links below:
It is my contention that the British Horseracing Authority should have spoken to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum directly (instead of letting Simon Crisford speak on his behalf) when investigating doping issues at Godolphin. C4 Racing presenter, Clare Balding, is the only person to ask the Sheikh a direct question on the matter (which is a disgraceful state of affairs) and his response was to give her his back.
The BHA should also have rigorously investigated the Sheikh’s involvement in the day-to-day activities at Godolphin to establish the true extent of his knowledge about what was going on with his horses.
Failure to question and thoroughly investigate the Sheikh made the BHA look toothless at best and downright scared of offending racing’s Royal patron at worst. And it was always a failing that was going to come back and bite them on the backside. I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
This week it emerged that banned equine drugs were discovered on a Dubai government private jet when it was searched at Stansted airport. The shipment was, apparently, labeled as 'horse tack'. It is unclear exactly what substances the shipment consisted of (200 doses of 15 different medicines we are told) – but coming so soon after the first Godolphin scandal it is clearly embarrassing to the Sheikh and I should think it will be mortifying to the stuffed shirts at the BHA.
Sheikh Mohammed’s spokesman said the Sheikh had been ‘unaware’ of the products on the flight – just as he’d been ‘unaware’ of the drugs found earlier in the year at Godolphin’s Moorley Farm operation.
A spokesman for the Sheikh’s wife, Princess Haya, told the Guardian newspaper that ‘Nobody seems to know in the organisation who is buying what or where….’
It seems the Sheikh’s operation is beset on all sides by unknown individuals who are intent on doping his horses with performance enhancing substances (using his planes but presumably buying the substances at their own expense). These mystery benefactors are acting completely on their own initiative and entirely without the knowledge, complicity or support of the seriously victimized Sheikh.
That’s the only possible explanation? Or maybe we’re just being force fed a load of old cobblers? I know where my money is going.
Meanwhile the BHA (aka Clown School) couldn’t look any more foolish or ineffectual if it tried.
I’ll be back with the Verdict next week.