Academic journal article International Journal of Sport Finance

"Say It Ain't So": Betting-Related Malpractice in Sport

Academic journal article International Journal of Sport Finance

"Say It Ain't So": Betting-Related Malpractice in Sport

Article excerpt


The paper identifies key changes in the betting environment that have raised risks to the integrity of sport. The risks are discussed in the context of a model where potential fixers evaluate the costs and benefits to them of engaging in manipulation of events on the field for betting gain. Using this framework, particular markets and situations are indicated as especially susceptible to corruption and these predictions appear to be consistent with the set of cases that have been exposed in contemporary sport. Possible policy responses are discussed.

Keywords: betting, match fixing, corruption


This paper is about sports match fixing, by which we mean the manipulation of on-the-field events for motives related to potential gain in betting markets. Its title refers to an incident following one of the most notorious fixes in the history of sport, the "throwing" of games by members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team in the 1919 World Series. In a possibly apocryphal story, a small boy, devastated by the allegations that had emerged, pleaded with his hero, batting star and conspirator Joe Jefferson Jackson, to "say it ain't so, Joe."

The poignant words reverberate down the decades because they capture the danger that exposure of corruption will shatter dreams and remove the magic that a sport offers the world. This in itself would surely constitute a cultural loss; but disillusion and an erosion of confidence in the integrity of events would also be likely to impose a financial loss on the competitions and leagues that were implicated. Both live and television demand might fall and some sponsors would hesitate to become associated with activities that had acquired an unsavory reputation.

Of course, it should be understood that, while betting markets generate a threat to the integrity of sport, they also present opportunities for stimulating public interest and capturing new revenue streams. These could be associated with, for example, fees for use of sporting data by betting operators, partnerships with bookmakers in offering live in-play betting during televised events1 and sponsorship (in the most recent soccer season, six of 20 English Premier League clubs had betting companies as shirt sponsors). Given the rate of increase in betting volume (noted below), it would not be unreasonable to speculate that exploiting betting markets through such channels could produce a similar boost to the revenue of sport as television provided in the 1990s. However, repeated scandal would be likely to make it morally and politically unacceptable for sport to link itself too closely to gambling interests. This adds urgency to sport developing strong and proactive policies to address the issue of match fixing.

Match fixing appears to be as old as organized sport itself, and there are well documented cases that occurred well before the 1919 World Series, notoriously frequently in the case of English cricket in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, it would be easy to form an impression that fixing has become a bigger problem in the new millennium as several cases have been exposed, even at the highest level of play, in the world's most popular sports. In cricket, the captain of the South African team was found to have facilitated defeat for his team in a test match against England in 2000, and several other allegations of fixing in the sport emerged at the hearings into the case. Leading leagues, such as the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States and German soccer's Bundesliga, have been the focus of referee corruption scandals (these and other cases are documented in a report for sports governing bodies by Forrest, McHale, and McAuley, 2008). Tennis has also come under suspicion; a recent investigation by Gunn and Rees (2008) concluded that 45 matches played in the preceding five years should be investigated because of "strong indications" from betting patterns that profits had been generated by, at the least, insider trading. …

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