Skullduggery, rumours and what can be done about match-fixing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 12:00am

The bigger the tournament, the greater potential there is for a massive betting scandal.

So, when it was revealed that the tied match at the ICC World Cup between England and India had been predicted by former Australia spinner Shane Warne, eyebrows were raised in the cricketing world.

It seemed a highly improbable outcome given that England were 281 for 2 in the 43rd over in the group B game, chasing a winning target of 339 in Bangalore. 'Is it a coincidence that a cricketer who has previously been involved in match-fixing controversies predicted an unusual match outcome which then actually materialised?' asked Ahmad Fuad in his blog for Pakistan's Express Tribune.

'Let's not forget he is still playing in the controversial [Indian Premier League] and has good relationships in the land of bookies.'

The other remarkable result also involved England at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium as Kevin O'Brien hit the fastest-ever World Cup hundred to engineer Ireland's shock three-wicket victory. But this was an upset that no-one had forecast, via Twitter or any other means.

One man who is almost certain that nothing untoward has gone on at the 2011 World Cup is former New Zealand batsman and ex-Ireland coach Ken Rutherford, who is now an international expert in sports gaming. But in the same breath he urges cricket authorities to take a more pro-active stance when it comes to separating wild accusations from hard evidence in the possible manipulation of games. 'That's the trouble with this whole environment - any vague rumour or hint of gossip is treated as informed comment,' he said.

'I would be shocked if a World Cup game was interfered with because the spotlight is at its most extreme. The fixers could find better options for their skullduggery.

'But saying that, I have made the point to the folks at the ICC that they need to better understand the sports betting industry to know when match fixing may occur.'

After spending four years in Asia as head of sports betting for Singapore Pools, Rutherford moved to Johannesburg this year to take up a new position with the South African racing and sports betting company, Phumela Gold Enterprises.

He says that rather than keeping the gaming community at arm's length, cricket bosses should embrace it to better understand corruption before taking steps. 'By employing traders from the sports betting industry whose job it would be to watch the markets on a daily basis, they could help the ICC set up some kind of software that would be applied to the markets and would act as an alert should money be moving oddly - that is, against the natural progression of a match,' he said.

'Also they could look to form alliances with the biggest bookies in the world and set up a network for information sharing that could also act as a pro-active step towards seeing skullduggery in advance.'

Soccer administrators already liaise with betting organisations to run a network in which information is shared. It has been effective in reducing the number of games tainted by match fixing, especially in Europe.

'When odd betting behaviour is suspected, the network is informed and often markets will be closed as a result of this information,' Rutherford said. 'The network has a direct line through to [European soccer's governing body] Uefa, who are informed prior to kick-off if any match fixing is suspected. Then the match officials would warn the players before the game that the match was suspected of being fixed, and that they'd better not try anything.'

However, the challenge for cricket chiefs is that most of the sport's gambling is not regulated, instead run by thousands of independent operators. That means that betting trends are far more difficult to monitor.

But Rutherford believes the ICC shouldn't use any excuse in its efforts to smash corruption.

'Illegal bookmaking operations in India and in other parts of Asia are rife, so some kind of underground network could be set up to better understand the lie of the land,' he said. 'Some of the bet types are only available to clients of the illegal bookies, yet somehow the cricket authorities have to infiltrate that network.

'It's not easy, but it's crucial.'

During a big tournament like the World Cup, illegal cricket betting increases dramatically. And the fact that this 10th edition is unfolding on the subcontinent only adds to the interest, leaving open the temptation of occasional fans to have a flutter.

Rather than treating betting as 'a social outcast', countries like India could follow the example of Asian nations where gambling has been regulated, Rutherford believes. 'In places like Hong Kong and Singapore where governments have approved sports betting, it has had some impact in combating illegal bookmaking and it also enables funds to return to the community,' he said.

'It is a case of understanding that the illegal bookies will never be wiped out, so governments might as well earn some money given the huge interest in betting on sport. And at the same time, have some impact in cleaning up the sport.'


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