Sunday, 2 May 2010

Snooker Accused

I am running out of sports to bet on that are free of match-fixing or cheating scandals.

The News of the World tomorrow publishes a fairly damning expose on John Higgins, although this is nothing new for snooker and the "fear of the Russian Mafia" excuse may have some credibility. I remember accusations from way back in the 1980s. This news follows cricket and its "spot-fixing" rumours, as well as the perennial concerns about horse racing, tennis, Italian football, non-league English football, boxing and no doubt other sports that don't spring to mind immediately. If it turns out that wrestling is fixed too, I may well lose faith in sports altogether.

My involvement in snooker is very much small scale. I don't care for the sport too much, if it is even a sport. (It seems to me that for a sport to be a sport, rather than a game, some reasonable level of physical fitness needs to be a requirement, but that's another topic.) Snooker is boring and just all too easy to fix. As with tennis, just the one player's cooperation is needed, and for someone unlikely to win the tournament, the sums of money mentioned in the News of the World article would be very tempting.

So what sports can one bet on with a reasonable certainly that the result will be genuine?

Leaving aside the possibility that the referee is untouched (no sure thing as evidenced by Portuguese, German and Brazilian football as well as the NBA) the top leagues for team sports are a pretty solid choice. At the end of the season, there may be little incentive for many teams to try their best, but in England at least, the chances of a league game being fixed are slim at best. Not trying too hard and settling for a mutually beneficial result is something else, and that has been going on since 1898. Before I was born in fact.

The problem for the fixer is always going to be that of hiding their "unusual betting patterns", something that sticks out like a sore thumb in a game where liquidity is usually relatively small.

The big four American sports seem to be free of fixing accusations, although it hasn't always been that way, and tanking remains an ongoing issue, even if steps have been taken to minimise the 'rewards'. When the post-season seeding arrangements are known ahead of time, even play-off teams sometimes resort to this, but a blind-eye is generally turned to this practice, and smart betters know the risks.

The problems there are more related to performance-enhancing drug use than throwing games, although it is true that College basketball is susceptible to point shaving which can affect the result of handicap / totals markets, if not the money line.

Not a major betting sport, but cycling is just so riddled with drug use that it's become pointless to watch it any more. I remember staying up into the early hours watching Ben Johnson 'win' the 100m in a world record time, only to be stripped of the medal a few days later, but that was just 9.83 seconds of my life wasted. To follow the Tour de France for three weeks and a day, only for the 'winner' to be stripped of the title months later was a lot more annoying.

Golf too has had it's rumours of drug use, although it's hard to see how a performance enhancing drug would really help in a sport that requires a lot of walking and 30 plus 'big' hits. The prize money on offer would be a deterrent to most players from deliberately throwing a tournament, but maybe Tiger (Cheetah?) was offered a cocktail waitress to miss the cut this weekend. (His wife's not expecting him home until late Sunday and since he's admitted to 120, another one isn't going to make any odds.)

No comments: