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Chips With Everything

Where there is gambling, there is likely to be corruption or cheating, and where there is sport there is likely to be gambling. From betting on prize fights and horse-racing sweepstakes to football pools and the current enormous betting industry, sport and gambling have always been closely allied. But recent complaints and sporting scandals surrounding corruption allegedly caused by gambling have moved to a new level.

Over the decades there have been a number of celebrated betting scandals. In 1919, players in the Chicago White Sox team threw the baseball World Series, so some gamblers could make a fortune betting on their opponents; as a result, eight players were banned for life. In a scandal in the Football League in 1962, three players were imprisoned and banned after betting on their team to lose a match; as one of them, Peter Swan, said, ‘Where there’s money there will always be a fiddle.’ In each case the players benefitted relatively little but paid a big price.

More recently, three Pakistan cricketers have been banned for fixing a Test match against England. They did not conspire to lose but, it’s alleged, to do things such as bowl no-balls at particular points, since that’s the kind of specific event that you can now bet on. They are facing criminal charges too.

The International Olympic Committee is setting up a taskforce to combat not just match-fixing but also illegal betting, an industry worth several hundred billion pounds. Jacques Rogge, IOC President, has said that ‘illegal betting…threatens the credibility of sport’. But the credibility and reputation of professional sport are already undermined, from horse doping to fixed boxing matches to dubious games of snooker or cricket. Swan, it seems, had it half-right: the profit motive leads to fiddles and cheating, where the swindled punters or the corrupted athletes are the real losers.

PB