It seems the devil is still making them do it
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.