Bet­ting throws sus­pi­cion over ev­ery sport

It’s hard to know what per­for­mances we should cel­e­brate

The Weekend Australian - - SPORT - PA­TRICK SMITH

Makybe Diva didn’t. Black Caviar couldn’t. And Winx won’t. Rac­ing can­not break free from the de­bil­i­tat­ing image of rort­ing per­pe­trated by buf­foons, busi­ness and sta­ble types ever sniff­ing around for a quick buck.

The in­dus­try’s naive be­lief that if you give the rac­ing boffins a cham­pion horse they will give you a re­vival in in­ter­est is — and al­ways has been — as bank­rupt as the ab­surd pre­tence that whip­ping does not hurt horses.

No mat­ter that it is a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness that em­ploys a slab of the nation from heel to ear, bush to the city. No mat­ter that its in­tegrity is chal­lenged ev­ery day even though it’s a sig­nif­i­cant driver of the na­tional econ­omy. Rac­ing is lashed by a com­mon be­lief that it is a sport of trick­eries.

So no mat­ter how fas­tid­i­ously it preens rac­ing’s image, and rac­ing can pro­duce some of life’s tin­gling times, the sport’s newly rubbed twin­kle is al­ways one cor­rupt prac­tice away from an­other drench­ing. By mud.

This week eight peo­ple were charged with 271 se­ri­ous breaches of rac­ing rules. The charged in­clude elite train­ers Robert Smer­don, Stu­art Webb and Tony Vasil. Rac­ing Vic­to­ria fi­nally stood down Smer­don and Webb yes­ter­day. The fate of the oth­ers charged last Tues­day has not been de­ter­mined.

God knows why the RV board dithers. Of course, they should all be stood down. These are not foot­ball play­ers ac­cused of a bit of biffo at a night­club; rather they play roles in­te­gral to the sport’s in­tegrity.

The health and spirit of the sport is in the hands of train­ers and their staff. The charges go di­rectly to the hon­esty and fair­ness of the sport. All of those charged must be stood down un­til their guilt or in­no­cence is es­tab­lished. Con­fi­dence in the game’s in­tegrity would wob­ble if they are not.

And Mike Sy­mons, chair­man of the Mel­bourne Rac­ing Club but also on the board of Aquanita, the com­pany that runs the busi­ness side of the op­er­a­tions of Smer­don, Webb and oth­ers, should walk away from both po­si­tions un­til the mat­ter is re­solved. He has no other choice and it is stun­ning and trou­bling that he re­mains. It does not point to any guilt but cer­tainly to a fee­ble grip on the ex­pec­ta­tions of gov­er­nance.

None of this is to sug­gest that any­one so far men­tioned is guilty. What Sy­mons does with his hat stand is ul­ti­mately his busi­ness. The eight charged are ex­pected to de­fend their po­si­tions earnestly and vig­or­ously. Nonethe­less just the lay­ing of the charges is an­other belt­ing to the flank of rac­ing’s image.

That ac­cu­sa­tions have been for­malised is not a sur­prise. Col­league Bren­dan Cormick ex­clu­sively re­vealed to read­ers the grav­ity of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion which started last Oc­to­ber. Last Wed­nes­day Cormick wrote that the probe be­gan when Smer­don­trained mare Lo­vani “was ob­served be­ing treated by a sta­ble­hand upon ar­rival at Flem­ing­ton on Oc­to­ber 7. What en­sued was a far-reach­ing, three­month in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Vet­eran trainer Robert Smer­don gave ev­i­dence on the day but not Greg Nel­li­gan, who was caught red­handed with a plunger (sy­ringe).

Nel­li­gan was asked to sur­ren- der his mo­bile phone for foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion and it is al­leged it pro­vided data in the form of text mes­sages that re­vealed more than 100 episodes of race day treat­ment of­fences that were signed off with mes­sages con­firm­ing the horses had been given sodium bi­car­bon­ate and a sup­ple­ment to com­bat lac­tic aci­do­sis and ty­ing up. The treat­ment, known as a “milk­shake”, gives horses an il­le­gal edge.

It is an old treat­ment but one that is con­sid­ered mostly ef­fi­ca­cious but il­le­gal af­ter tip­ping cer­tain lev­els.

Of course, the charges alone are a bru­tal bruis­ing to rac­ing but if it is of any salve the am­bi­tious sport re­cently be­gan The Ever­est, a sprint race worth $10 mil­lion, the third-rich­est race in the world. The Mel­bourne Cup, with a win-

Sport has gone past the point where its per­for­mances, state­ments, achieve­ments and prom­ises are ac­cepted in good faith

ning purse of $3.6m, has the fifth high­est purse. The sport is not yet out on its hooves.

Rac­ing is not the only sport ha­rassed by critics. It ap­pears the harder ad­min­is­tra­tors of rac­ing, ten­nis, cricket, foot­ball, AFL, league, union, cy­cling, ath­let­ics et al, clean up their games the dirt­ier they are per­ceived. Sport has gone past the point where its per­for­mances, state­ments, achieve­ments and prom­ises are ac­cepted in good faith.

Rac­ing’s 271 charges laid last week should un­der­line the ca­pa­bil­i­ties, de­ter­mi­na­tion and ubiq­ui­tous strength of rac­ing’s in­tegrity team. It should be a pos­i­tive. But it isn’t. The com­mu­nity reg­is­ters it only as an­other ex­am­ple of en­trenched cheat­ing in rac­ing. It is not seen as a cleans­ing. Nods and sighs. Who would want to be a part of such dirty deal­ings?

His­tory will show it was not Lance Arm­strong who knocked cy­cling off its wheels. It is the cheats that have fol­lowed. Al­berto Con­ta­dor and Floyd Lan­dis. The world awaits a de­ci­sion on Chris Froome, four-time win­ner of the Tour de France, who has just re­cently tested pos­i­tive to dou­ble the al­low­able level of asthma drug salbu­ta­mol.

It is not that the in­ves­ti­ga­tors are clean­ing the sport up and win­ning the con­test with the chemists. Most per­for­mances in cy­cling are ques­tion­able. If some­thing as grave as that con­man Arm­strong’s cor­rup­tion of the sport doesn’t stop oth­ers cheat­ing, then you have a sport with im­moral­ity so in­grained it can­not be ei­ther dug out or cov­ered over. You feel for the men and women who com­pete strictly by the rules.

In De­cem­ber the English press wrote that there would be at­tempts at match-fix­ing in the third Ashes Test. And $245,000 would buy you the mo­ments where book­mak­ers would set up spot-fix­ing — a run-out here, a no-ball there. The ICC is in­ves­ti­gat­ing. Not a scary thought.

But it makes you watch cricket with squeezed eyes. That was an odd choice of shot. Why has that field been set? Cu­ri­ous change to the bat­ting or­der.

Two years ago the Aus­tralian Open ten­nis was over­run by claims that eight play­ers in the

main draw had been men­tioned in past or cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The BBC and Buz­zfeed story said that they had a “cache of doc­u­ments” in sup­port of their al­le­ga­tions. The sport’s most in­flu­en­tial body, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ten­nis Pro­fes­sion­als, in­ves­ti­gated. Ap­par­ently. Best it could be called was a drop shot. There was no serve and vol­ley.

We could go on be­cause cor­rup­tion in ev­ery sport is build­ing. The amount of money bet on games, shots, points, de­ci­sions, catches, goals is ex­plod­ing. In part be­cause all sports em­braced bet­ting. They say hav­ing con­trol over bet­ting gives them a level of se­cu­rity they would not oth­er­wise have. But the se­ri­ous ram­i­fi­ca­tion is that it ap­pears sport wants peo­ple bet­ting. Even en­cour­ages it. At­tract the dol­lar and you at­tract the spiv.

So here we have mod­ern sport. Rac­ing Vic­to­ria runs a long in­ves­ti­ga­tion, finds peo­ple to charge and breaches of rules. It should en­cour­age con­fi­dence in our sports. But it doesn’t.

Sport may soon be fic­tion. Are you ready to sus­pend be­lief?

Smer­don

Sy­mons

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