Whoa Back!

I may not be the first to bring this up, but I certainly will not be the last.

Betting controls are getting out of hand. Not because of criminals trying to cook the books, but because of actions by authorities to micro manage the situation.

Ever since a well known fellow played fullback for Jerusalem, people have connived to pre-organise the results of games. They will try to do so in the future. More power to authorities acting to stamp out this practice. Indeed, one such incident in the ARL is before the courts in Sydney now.

The various authorities’ efforts now extend past the crooks and on to areas formerly the province of stock exchanges – ie to “insider trading” where people with privileged knowledge bet on matches.

Two Collingwood players were thumped by the AFL for doing just that. Knowing that a backman was mooted to move forward early in their next match, they bet, or encouraged others to bet, on the likelihood of him kicking the first goal. No problem there – that’s an unacceptable practice. Investigations are ongoing into another similar incident.

All this is possible because the sporting and racing codes have access to betting details as part of their agreements with bookmakers, totes and . They get name, rank and serial number. And pictures, too.

However, indications are that betting controls are going still further again.

The latest is where a contracted Essendon football club employee was picked up betting on a match which did not involve his club. The AFL fined him.

Now, the club or the AFL may well claim they have the authority to do that under various waffly clauses to do with the good of the game. But I suggest that is an excessive use of power.

Such a bet is nothing more than thousands of Australians do every day. There was no ill-intent, no mis-use of information, no victims, just an expression of opinion. The fact that this so-called offender was employed by a football club was co-incidental and had no impact whatever on the club or the code. It therefore brings up the question of how much control a sporting authority should have over the personal life of an “involved” person.

For players and drugs that goes a fair way, which is reasonable as they can affect performances in a contest. In any event, the practice is likely to be illegal in the outside world. But for most other things, surely the right to privacy should take precedence. In other words, I suggest the club or authority has allowed their squeaky clean aims to override the normal and otherwise acceptable actions of the individual.

In another case, stewards penalised a professional punter (an unlicensed person, note) on the ground that he colluded with a jockey to lose races. There was no question of the jockey’s errors and accordingly he was suspended. But the appeals tribunal threw out the verdict on the punter as it saw no reasonable proof that he acted improperly, despite his betting on the same outcomes. The stewards had overreacted. Being gung ho is all very well, but not when authorities dig into areas of a person’s private business without good reason.

(Note that, were the stewards’ claims validated, the actions would most likely constitute an offence in common law. That being the case, why did the stewards not refer the matter to the police in the first place? Perhaps they realised it would not stand up).

At the heart of all these situations is a desire by authorities to ensure fairness and a level playing field. That’s a fine objective and one that the community needs and values.

However, we are getting dangerously close to an area where “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

The question is not “how” but “how far”. Just because some regulations are a good thing it does not follow that more regulations will be better – more likely the reverse will be true in practice.

The abuse being alleged in the Sydney courts, the Collingwood secret knowledge or betting on their own races by greyhound staff are undesirable practices.

On the other hand, there is no apparent reason to penalise club employees betting on matches or races in which they are not involved. Nor, for that matter, for racing authority staff betting on races in another state. (In fact, there is often cause for wonder at how racing authorities can fully appreciate betting practices when they are not allowed to indulge themselves. How else can they evaluate what is doing, for example?)

The test is whether such penalties achieve anything. None have been put forward and the practical answer must be that they do not. On the other hand, they do infringe the rights of the individual.

In any event, such overreactions are inconsistent with other measures taken by greyhound authorities – the most notable being in the event of a trainer disqualification, when the wife or the mates take over and everything proceeds as normal. Another would be inconsistent penalties from state to state. Yet another is allowing a convicted fighter to move to another track – and not relegating that fighter in the first place (as would occur in the other two racing codes).

A measure of balance is missing.

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