It seems the devil is still mak­ing them do it

CityPress - - Sport - Dan Retief dan.retief@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @retief­dan

Ever since “the devil made Han­sie do it” the vexed ques­tion of fix­ing games of sport has been with us.

Af­ter Han­sie Cronje, ev­ery odd re­sult, ev­ery turn-up for the books, has led to ac­cu­sa­tions that the out­come was ma­nip­u­lated to clinch a big pay­day for some das­tardly bookie.

I even heard ac­cu­sa­tions that the Proteas might have col­lec­tively ca­pit­u­lated to Stu­art Broad’s mis­siles at the Wan­der­ers to share in an out­come that cer­tainly would have been of­fered at huge odds.

That was prob­a­bly the beer talk­ing af­ter a day in the hot African sun, but it shows to what ex­tent a cloud of sus­pi­cion swirls around top sport.

Just the other day, for in­stance, the world’s best ten­nis player, No­vak Djokovic, while fac­ing the press at the Aus­tralian Open, had to de­flect ques­tions about an age-old shock de­feat that an Ital­ian news­pa­per al­leged was rigged.

It raises the ques­tion about whether a rugby game can be in­flu­enced by gam­bling.

The an­swer is yes, and it has. By a Spring­bok team.

In 1994, the Boks were on tour in New Zealand, where bet­ting is a pop­u­lar aside to fol­low­ing sport, when they no­ticed that the odds on their beat­ing the All Blacks in a test in Welling­ton were most un­favourable. Ir­ri­tated, the play­ers de­cided to stick it to the book­mak­ers. They pooled some funds, took a big bet on their beat­ing the All Blacks, pulled it off and divvied up the pro­ceeds.

One could ar­gue that a team bet­ting on it­self to win is morally de­fen­si­ble. It’s when they take bets to lose that you have to start wor­ry­ing.

Still, there are other in­stances of rugby cast­ing an eye on the mas­sive amounts avail­able if a bet comes good – even at an of­fi­cial level.

A num­ber of coun­tries, for in­stance, have taken big bets at long odds on their teams reach­ing cer­tain points of the World Cup – a quar­ter­fi­nal, per­haps win­ning the fi­nal – to cover play­ers’ bonuses.

How­ever, there have been no ac­cu­sa­tions of an in­di­vid­ual player, say the goal kicker, do­ing some­thing de­lib­er­ately to change the out­come of a match.

But if there is one per­son who can swin­dle the re­sult: the ref­eree.

It’s al­ways eas­ier to “buy” just one in­di­vid­ual, and there cer­tainly have been games where the losers have been most sus­pi­cious.

South African fans still get hot un­der the col­lar over Bryce Lawrence’s han­dling of their World Cup quar­ter­fi­nal against the Wal­la­bies in New Zealand in 2011, while, most re­cently, in an­other quar­ter­fi­nal, the Scots were seething at Craig Jou­bert.

No out­right ac­cu­sa­tions were lev­elled and no in­ves­ti­ga­tions were launched.

The prob­lem in a game such as cricket is twofold: the many lit­tle stan­zas an in­di­vid­ual can in­flu­ence with a bit of skul­dug­gery, and the as­tro­nom­i­cal num­bers of peo­ple who fol­low, and bet on, the game, es­pe­cially in In­dia.

Most bets are not placed on match out­comes. Wa­gers are laid on facets of the game. How many runs will be con­ceded in an over? Will the wick­et­keeper drop two catches? Will a bowler have a no- ball in his first over?

It’s called spot bet­ting and was less com­pli­cated when it first en­tered cricket. The hus­tle might have been that In­dia would not make 350 runs in a one-day game, in the days when such a score was un­heard of.

There would be long odds on such an oc­cur­rence and a cap­tain could then lis­ten to the devil on his shoul­der, take a big bet and bowl weaker bowlers, per­haps him­self, to en­sure the big score was reached.

For pun­ters it’s a game of chance. For those in the game, it’s grand theft.

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