There is much said about drugs being rife in sport but that is not the major issue…

Greg Cary

Greg Cary

Sports writer

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Australia’s cricket captain, Michael Clarke, has unwittingly put his finger on the huge challenge posed by gambling in sport.

Responding to the claims made about (and by) former NZ representative, Lou Vincent, Clarke said he had never taken part in a match that had been manipulated. Fact is, Michael Clarke wouldn’t know… and that’s the dilemma.

Although never proven, most observers remain unconvinced that Pakistan tried as hard as they might in the second Test in Hobart in 2010, a match in which Clarke played. Even Pakistan’s management sensed a fix. Our skipper’s optimism is a sign of his own integrity and, perhaps, a certain continuing and worrying naivety about how these things work.

Malcolm Speed, the former CEO of the International Cricket Council says we need to be careful not to judge incidents with hindsight, which overlooks the fact that Ian Chappell and many others were highly dubious at the time.

In the last edition I commented that Ryan Tandy was surely not the only rugby league player to have taken money to manipulate a game.

One correspondent (thanks Brian) said it would be all but impossible to “buy” an entire team. Someone, he argues, would speak out or decline the offer and blow the whistle. With respect, this is the essence of the misunderstanding – and a reflection of the dimensions of the problem.

You don’t need to pay an entire team – just someone in a position to impact a game. Bookmakers and professional gamblers deal in odds and percentages. If you know a key player is going to under-perform or is injured you can bet (or take someone else’s) with added confidence.

There is no major sport in the world that has not been targeted by cheats. To think our games are somehow immune is to argue against history and human nature. Not a smart wager.

A recent study* estimated around $150 billion is laundered through illegal sports betting yearly and that 80 per cent of all betting is illegal. This corruption is probably beyond our capacity to imagine or for some administrators to acknowledge. Solutions are not easy and are made harder still by sport’s increasing reliance on gambling for revenue. A dangerous marriage.

When then Justice Minister Jason Clare declared it our darkest day, I thought the Australian Crime Commission had stumbled across evidence of gambling and match fixing. Instead, it was all about peptides and other drugs that might be illegal and may have been given to players without their knowledge or consent.

Charges are still to be laid and only a few clubs from two codes are involved to this point. The only people who could seriously believe that drugs are the biggest issue facing Australian sport are those still blissfully unaware of the genuine and insidious threat of illegal gambling. Bet on it.