Mind Games: Rugby not immune to the lure of filthy lucre

2014-06-01 15:00

An international rugby goal kicker has been charged with deliberately missing kicks to fix the outcome of certain matches.

Apologies. Before you start snatching at names of who you think it might be, that introduction was just to get your attention – and hopefully also that of rugby administrators.

As far as I am aware, there are no accusations of rugby matches being manipulated to ensure big payouts for those aware of the fix.

But revelations of widespread match-fixing in cricket by former New Zealand test player Lou Vincent has again thrown a spotlight on the pervasive spread of criminal gambling in professional sports.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has charged Vincent and his former Sussex team-mate Naved Arif with fixing the outcome of a county cricket match while disclosures at hearings even implicated former

New Zealand captain Chris Cairns – allegations he has strongly denied.

In football, Uefa has signed a cooperation agreement with Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, to deal with the rigging of matches. A staggering 680 “suspicious” matches have been marked for investigation.

In South Africa, the festering sore of allegations about Bafana Bafana matches ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup remains open with President Jacob Zuma deciding not to appoint a commission of inquiry, as promised by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula. The issue has instead been deferred to Fifa.

Exposés about the activities of convicted Singapore-based match-fixer Wilson Perumal suggest football is rotten to the core.

Cricket’s exposure to fraudsters was accelerated by the advent of T20 tournaments in India and the ability of punters to bet on almost any outcome in matches – from the actual result to which batsman might strike the first four.

The question must be whether rugby matches can be hustled and the answer has to be an unambiguous “yes”.

As was shown by horse and dog racing, and now football and cricket, the lure of big payouts attracts crooks eager to bend the odds their way. With betting on rugby becoming ever more prevalent, there will be many trying to cash in.

In fact, there have been instances of “legitimate” betting.

In 1998, while on tour in New Zealand, the Springboks became incensed by the long odds being offered by the local bookies for them to beat the All Blacks.

They all threw in a couple of dollars and bet on themselves to win – successfully too, as they ended up breaking a long lean spell by winning their Tri-Nations test in Wellington and sharing the bookies’ payout among themselves.

Ahead of the 2007 rugby World Cup in France, Fiji came up with a unique form of financing potential bonuses for their players.

Being a poor union, officials decided to place bets, at long odds, on Fiji reaching the quarterfinal, semifinal and final stages, and promised the players the dividends

if they reached each of these knockout stages in turn.

Rugby is not yet at the stage of football and cricket where any odd result or occurrence is viewed with suspicion, but the time may well come that questions are asked of a game such as the recent clash between the Crusaders and the Sharks.

The Cantabrians, in spite of being up against a 14-man Sharks side (and even 13 men for 10 minutes) inexplicably eschewed their normal attacking game to kick for the posts.

They ended up losing a game most predicted they would win.

Unusual refereeing or TMO decisions could also come under scrutiny, so there is no doubt rugby can be “bought”.

Officials need to take heed before they end up with the kinds of scandals that have tarnished football and cricket.

In fact, with referees having become so central, the easiest way to hobble a rugby match would be to buy match officials.

As John “Knuckles” Connolly, the crusty former coach of the Queensland Reds, once remarked about a referee in the innocent amateur days when skulduggery was not even thought of: “That bloke could blow the All Blacks and Morocco to a 12-all draw!”

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