The AFL is to be congratulated for the tough action taken during the off-season against Simon Goodwin, Daniel Ward, David Hale and Kieren Jack for betting on AFL matches.
It is critical to the integrity of the game that a zero tolerance policy on the betting on games by players or officials be enforced.
Recent events surrounding the Cricket World Cup are a reminder of the dangers that are present whenever sport is mixed with large amounts of (mostly illegal) betting money. Suspicions of match fixing have cast a dark cloud over what should be one of the most prestigious and respected events in world cricket. The insidious nature of match-fixing means that where in the past surprise results (such as Bangladesh’s victory over India) were taken on face value, nowadays we are left wondering if the fix has been in. This does no credit to those teams and individuals in the sport who are competing to the best of their abilities.
One of the major learning points to come out of cricket’s betting troubles has been the impact of micro-betting, whereby punters are able to bet on a myriad of options related to the particular performances of individuals. This practice provides a far greater scope for match-fixing, as it is obviously easier to bribe an individual batsman or bowler to under-perform than it is to bribe an entire team. The tactics used by bookmakers and punters to lure naïve or greedy cricketers into their fold are well-documented, and have the potential to be equally successful in an AFL environment.
The AFL may care to review the betting options made available through its legitimately licensed betting agencies. Of particular concern are options enabling bets to be placed on head-to-head possessions and head-to-head goals. It does not take much imagination to conjure a situation where a player could contrive to ‘lose’ one of these head-to-head contests, even without jeopardising the winning chances of his team. (I can feel a tight hamstring coming on as we speak).
The fact that the AFL is seen to be actively monitoring the betting records of players is a start; however as long as head-to-head player options are tolerated, there is a very real risk that our great game could fall prey to the same type of elements that are currently in the process of ruining international cricket.
Published in The Sunday Age, 1 April, 2007