Are Sports Betting Games Fixed?
Match fixing is not new to the world of sports. Instances of players accepting bribes to lose a game, because of bets being made on the possible outcome of a game have been seen even during the heyday of the Greek civilization, where the first Olympic Games were held. The explosion of the mass media, especially electronic media, by the dawn of the 20th century made people more aware of the various happenings in the sporting world. Match-fixing is no less prevalent in the 21st century as it was in the 20th century.
Why are games fixed?
Match-fixing most commonly has its roots in the illegal sports betting business, where bettors place huge bets on the results of games. To make sure the outcome of the game favors them, they pay a certain amount to a sportsman or a team, an amount which they will find hard to resist, on the condition that they perform poorly or lose the game.
There are also other situations that motivate fixing of games. One of them is a mutual dislike among team members towards a person of authority in the team. The most infamous example of this occurred in the baseball World Series in 1919. Competing teams may agree to draw a match so that points are shared between them as well as the money. However, the most common factor that influences match-fixing is money.
Match-fixing scandals in the Indian sporting world
Cricket, being a national obsession in India, it is no surprise that a handful of bookies are involved in manipulating the game and staking huge amounts of money. Very often, even the credibility of some of the most reputed sportsmen in the country has come into question.
Over the past decade, Indian cricket has been rocked by scandals related to match fixing. What is significant here is that most of the cricket match-fixing scandals that have occurred in the last decade have had to do with the Indian subcontinent. Now it has become rather common knowledge that bookmakers and the underworld try to manipulate the results of cricket matches.
The first scandal that caused a minor sensation in international cricket was in 1998, when Australian cricketers Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were penalized by the Australian Cricket Board for accepting money from an Indian bookmaker to reveal the weather and pitch information.
It was, however, in the year 2000 that international cricket received its rudest shock, tarnishing its reputation for good. It all started with the Delhi police intercepting a conversation between an Indian bookmaker and Hansie Cronje, the South African Cricket Captain. The conversation revealed that Cronje had accepted bribes from the bookmaker to lose matches against India in the India-South Africa One-Day series of 2000. A formal inquiry committee was set up and Cronje later admitted to having accepted money from the bookmakers to throw two matches. He was banned from playing the game for life.
What startled the nation was not the Cronje incident alone, but also the names he revealed. Well known cricketers like Salim Malik, Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar were all named as having links to several bookmakers in the country. While Ajay Jadeja faced a ban from cricket for five years, Manoj Prabhakar was disqualified from holding any post in the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), and Azharuddin and Malik were awarded life time banishment from cricket.
After this revelation other skeletons tumbled out of the closet. According to a report filed by the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), a famous Indian bookmaker in 1993 had paid an Indian umpire to collect pitch information prior to the India-England one-day series that year. It was also revealed that a grounds man was asked to lay out an under-prepared pitch in Delhi for a Test match against Australia in 1996.
When the dark side of the country’s favorite sport was revealed, it came as a shattering blow to many of its fans. South African Players Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams were accused of having been in touch with bookmakers and were suspended for six months. As for Cronje, he did not live long after that incident. He was killed in a plane crash in the year 2002.
Memories of that year would soon fade away and the Indian cricket fan’s passion for the game once again flared up. But the game continued to have its share of controversies in the subcontinent. In 2001, some of the Indian players were penalized for tampering with the ball during the Test series against South Africa late 2001. Right up to 2011, where there have been allegations that the semi-final match between India and Pakistan was fixed, controversies regarding match fixing have haunted Indian cricket for the past decade.
It is not just cricket that has been targeted with match-fixing claims. Hockey, India’s national sport and once the most popular game in the country, has been hit with match-fixing allegations of late, where Harendra Singh, former coach of the Indian Hockey Team, accused Pargat Singh, former team mate and captain, of having done nothing for Indian hockey except match-fixing. He claimed that Pargat was behind India’s dismal showings in the previous two Olympic Games and also slammed Hockey India (HI) for roping in Pargat as chairman of its development committee.
Cricket match-fixing in India’s neighboring countries
Pakistan has been no less notorious for match fixing and the dark side of Pakistan cricket has shown itself quite often. Pakistan’s loss to Ireland in the 2007 World Cup and the subsequent death of Coach Bob Woolmer was one of the more recent events that shook Pakistani cricket. Although an inquiry was ordered into the incident, nothing ever came of it and the death still remains a mystery.
The next big blow for cricket in the country came when three Pakistani cricketers were accused of match-fixing a few years back. In the Tests that took place against England and Australia, players in the Pakistani cricket team, including Mohammad Asif, Kamran Akmal and Salman Butt were accused of match fixing charges and were awarded lengthy bans by the ICC. Suspicions were raised after the series in Australia, where the team lost all the three tests, the five one-dayers and the Twenty20 game.
Sri Lankan cricket, which had stayed out of controversies, shocked the cricketing world when the former Sri Lankan captain Hashan Tilakaratne alleged that corruption is ruining the cricket scene in Sri Lanka and has been since 1992. Backing Tilekaratne’s claims were Arjuna Ranatunga, who also questioned the team selection for the 2011 World Cup Final against India. This was followed up by Kumar Sangakkara’s speech at Lord’s, where he claimed that ever since his country won the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lankan Cricket had turned into a multi-million dollar business.
Major match-fixing scandals in other international sports
It is not just India and cricket, but different sports in different countries that have been shaken by match-fixing scandals. It is often the most popular game in a particular region that is the most bet upon. Some of the most scandalous events in world sports over the last century are mentioned here.
Baseball: One of the biggest scandals in American baseball occurred in 1919, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox were banned from playing the game for life. This punishment was meted out for intentionally losing the game, enabling Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series. The fixing was a conspiracy, motivated by a dislike amongst teammates against the club owner. The incident, referred to as the Black Sox Scandal, created such a sensation in the country that it inspired a book called “Eight Men Out”, which was later made into a movie by the same name.
Another baseball controversy occurred in the late 1980s when Peter Rose, former baseball player and manager of the Cincinnati Reds team then, voluntarily accepted the life ban from the Major League Baseball over allegations of his betting on his team, though no actual evidence exists even now. In his autobiography titled “Prison without Bars”, he discussed the whole match-fixing incident though.
Basketball and point shaving: Point shaving is a form of match fixing where players of a team agree not to cover a published point spread in a game. Point shaving is a common occurrence in basketball games and several such match fixing incidents have been unearthed over the last few decades. One of these was in the 1950s, where several basketball players from four New York colleges were indicted by the then District Attorney for indulging in point shaving. In the late 1970s, another point shaving plot was planned by mobsters from the New York crime family with the basketball team of Boston College.
In the 1990s, bookmakers from Las Vegas unearthed a point shaving scheme, which involved basketball players from the Arizona State University. The suspicion was raised when large wagers were made repeatedly over the Arizona state. Very recently, a report stated that 10 people, a number of them having ties with the basketball team of the University of San Diego, were indicted by the US federal grand jury over charges of point shaving.
Football (soccer): Perhaps the game that has had most match-fixing incidents is football (soccer). One of the most sensational scandals occurred in the UK in the 1910s, when a First League Division match between Manchester United and Liverpool was fixed in favor of the former team while the benefits went to both teams. Seven players were involved in the scandal and all of them were later banned for life.
A similar betting scandal was unearthed in the 1960s. It involved a betting ring formed by a number of Football League players who continually fixed matches. When uncovered, many of the players were banned for life and some of them imprisoned.
In 2004, over thirty people in South Africa were arrested on charges of match-fixing by the South African Football Association. The thirty people included club officials, referees, an official of the association and a match commissioner.
One of the recent incidents that shook football in Germany was the Bundesliga Scandal in 2005, when prosecutors, along with help from the German Football Association, made an inquiry into allegations that Robert Hoyzer, a referee, was involved in fixing several matches that he had worked on. It was also reported that he was involved with gambling syndicates in Croatia. He later confessed his guilt and named several other referees and players involved in match fixing. He, along with the others were arrested and served over two years in prison along with a life ban from the association.
That same year, another scandal was to rock Brazilian football, when two referees, one of them being a member of FIFA’s referee staff, were charged with accepting bribes and having fixed several games in the Campeonato Brasileiro, the country’s top football tournament. Once the allegations were confirmed, the games were replayed and both the referees were banned from football for life.
In 2006, the Italian Police uncovered what was supposed to be the largest match fixing scandal in Italian Serie A football. Here, major football teams Lazio, Fiorentina, AC Milan and Juventus were charged with rigging matches and selecting their favorite referees. Juventus, which had won the previous two Serie A titles, were stripped of them and with the exception of Milan, all four teams were relegated to Series B.
Many a match-fixing incident has been uncovered over the years and most of them have been dealt with severely. Every country has its own rules to restrict match fixing and provide strict penalties for those indulging in such practices. Regardless of these laws, sportspersons have been lured time and again into match-fixing scandals. Even the advent of modern technology, instead of effectively curbing match-fixing, has opened new pathways for bookmakers.
Effect of match-fixing and ways of dealing with it
Whenever such an incident is revealed to the public, it can have a corresponding effect on honest gamblers in countries where real money sports betting is legal. But in the UK, where sport betting is regulated and a thriving industry, there are rare instances of player involvement in match fixing or even scandals of this nature. In countries like India, where gambling is not legalized and is considered a social taboo, a few unscrupulous elements lure gullible players with money to play unfairly.
To tackle the problem, experts have suggested that legalization and regulation of gambling is probably the best solution. Banning is not going to help, as it will only motivate the industry to operate underground, as is the case with India, where the illegal gambling industry is worth almost 2,000 crore rupees. However, the public should demand solutions to match fixing.
Perhaps the most important point I can conclude this article with is – while match fixing as occurred in the past, match fixing is the exception and NOT the norm. Match fixing is a serious crime in most countries and both the criminal authorities and the sports leagues do everything in their power to combat it. Also, as a sports gambler who is given the option to pick either Team A or Team B in competition, even if some minuscule amounts of games you wager on are fixed, this won’t affect your overall win rate because on average you’ll be a different side of the fix 50% of the time.