Is gambling a bigger threat to sport than drugs?

By on December 18, 2018

Good evening, everyone. I start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet this evening, the Wiradjuri people of Kulin Nation, and thank them for their care of the land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present. My name is Betty Leask, Pro Vice-chancellor (Teaching and Learning) at La Trobe University.

On behalf of the university, I welcome you to the fourth event for the Bold Thinking series, 2016, “Is gambling a bigger threat to sport than drugs?” Tonight, we’ll hear from a panel of experts about the paradox of gambling in citadel casinos canada, and the broader integrity issues around cheating to win and cheating to lose, in sport. I’m very pleased to say that La Trobe is one of Australia’s leading universities for sport-related teaching and research, and I’m delighted indeed that this topic is included in the Bold Thinking series. On tonight’s panel, on my right, we have Professor Russell Hoye, Director of La Trobe Sport, whose research interests cover corporate governance, public policy, volunteer management and the impact of sport on individuals and society.

He has been chief investigator on three Australian Research Council grants, and a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant. We also have Catherine Audway, who is a Professor of Practice in Sports Management at La Trobe University. She’s a specialist in anti-doping and code of conduct disputes. She appeared in over 30 anti-doping hearings in the lead up to the Sydney Olympic Games and works with the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority. Joining Professors Russell Hoye and Catherine Audway is the AFL Players Association CEO, Paul Marsh, and leading investigative journalist, Nick McKenzie.

Paul Marsh has been the AFL Players Association CEO since 2014 and, prior to that, was the CEO of the Australian Cricketers Association. He’s also served as the executive chairman of the Federation of International Cricketers Association, FICA, and been chairman and board member of the Athletics Alliance Australia. Nick McKenzie is one of Australia’s leading investigative journalists, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with his face. He was … and his writings ! (laughter) He has won Australia’s highest journalism award, the Walkley Award, seven times, for his investigations into contemporary issues, including police corruption, corporate corruption, and organised crime and doping in sport. I’ll now hand over to tonight’s host, radio personality and former journalist, Francis Leach, for what promises to be a robust discussion.

Please join me in welcoming tonight’s expert panel. Francis Leach Thank you very much. Thank you for coming here tonight.

It’s great timing that we’re holding this event at this particular time, because it comes off the back of another Olympic Games. And as someone who grew up idolising the Olympic Games, today I had an amazing moment: Mack Horton came into my radio studio and he pulled out of his pocket his Olympic gold medal, and I held it in my hand, and the ten-year-old boy inside me nearly cried with joy. It was an amazing experience to hold it in my hand and, in a sense, it restored my faith in the idea of the Olympics which I grew up with. I was a kid that loved the Olympic Games. Abebe Bikila; I was obsessed with that story of him running barefoot and winning a gold medal in the marathon, and any number of stories like that.

Yet, as a grown man, over the last two weeks I’ve looked at the start line of most Olympic events with a heavy heart and a jaded eye and wondered which clean athlete was amongst the cheats who were predominant there. And that had more to do with, I think, my view of world sport now than maybe it did of them, but unfortunately, that’s where we are when it comes to the world of sport in 2016, for better or for worse. And that’s why at a forum like this tonight, it’s important to have this conversation.

All of our panellists have an expertise in different areas of the fight against corruption and the maintenance of integrity in sport, and that’s what we’re going to explore with them this evening. But I guess the first thing we have to do when we’re doing it, is identify the threat itself: just how real is it and what is the future of sport if we, indeed, fail to meet it? So I’ll start with you, Catherine. Just how deep and how urgent is the threat to sport integrity at the moment, if we have an overarching view of sport around the world as we know it?

Catherine Audway Well, I think it’s important to distinguish between cheating to win – which is doping, that you mentioned already – and cheating to lose, which is becoming more and more prevalent, and the title of tonight’s forum is about: “Is gambling a bigger threat than doping?” I think gambling of itself is perhaps not the big issue – we could spend an entire night talking about whether or not we like gambling in sport, but it’s here – what the issue is, is whether people are fixing and trying to determine the outcome in advance. Now, I didn’t get a sense during the Olympic Games this time that that’s what we had, that we had gambling-related integrity issues, but certainly in the lead-up to Rio, doping was the big issue.

So I guess they’re the two main concerns for sport at the moment. Francis Leach Russell, when you look at sport these days, does your eye trust what you see? Russell Hoye I think the fan in me tries to be quite (inaudible) looking at sport in its pure sense, and I think, depending on which sport you’re watching, if I’m watching some international soccer, I might have a different view, if I’m watching South American soccer, a very different view, and then if you’re watching under-12 soccer in Melbourne, it’s a different view again.

So it really depends on what sport you’re looking at. International cricket, I would never bet on it, or probably pay a subscription. Francis Leach Paul, as somebody who’s been involved from the point of view of the participants from professional sports people, your level of trust in the integrity of what your members are involved in, when you watch a game of cricket, an IPL game, are you confident when you watch that the messages to your constituents have got through and that they’re actually meeting the standard that you ask them to meet?

Paul Marsh I’ve always thought, from an Australian perspective, I’ve never seen or had any reason to believe there was an issue with Australian cricketers, but there certainly have been times where we’ve seen games, or parts of games, where there’s no doubt that there have been integrity issues. So I’ve seen firsthand: I’ve had players in my cricket days report integrity issues to me directly, so I know it exists in cricket and other sports and so, in my view, this is the biggest threat to the integrity of sport. Francis Leach Is gambling; the money?

Paul Marsh I think so. Match-fixing, I think, is the biggest issue. Francis Leach Nick, you’ve done it from the other side of the fence: watching people who’ve tried to affect the outcome of sporting events when it’s either drugs or gambling. If you had to choose, if we’re going make a choice, as the theme of this event is: gambling or drugs is a threat to the integrity of sport, which one do you reckon poses the biggest threat?

Nick McKenzie I’m going to be a copout and say they both pose equal threats, and they’re not mutually exclusive, because you can dope a horse, if it’s going to go faster and you’re betting on it, you’re cheating and you’re doping to win. I guess in terms of my view, I’ve got this very jaundiced view, because my job is in finding the bad stuff, and I’m amazed how often cheating and corruption happens in Melbourne; I mean, there are syndicates with organised crime figures, notorious drug traffickers, who have cups of coffee with AFL players, talent scouts. It’s happening every day of the week, and people don’t realise it’s out there, but it’s a genuine threat and it’s a serious threat. Of course, it’s much better here than it is overseas, but with the globalisation of sport, with our cricketers going to India in the off season, they’re exposed. The one rule of life is, “Where there is money there is corruption” and there’s more and more money in sport and more and more gambling in sport and there would be more and more corruption in sport.

Francis Leach There is one example, not in Melbourne so much, but the Eddie Hayson example in Sydney is, in some ways, a perfect sketch of how that might operate. For people who don’t know that story, can you fill them in about the Eddie Hayson story and how that tangled web has drawn in NRL players, journalists and other high profile figures as sort of a DNA, or a strain of the disease of cheating in sport? Nick McKenzie I’ve been told we’re not in a defamation-free zone, so I’ll be careful here; this will be broadcast online. But basically Eddie Hayson is a colourful massive punter, he moves a hell of a lot of money as a gambler and has forged these – not unique ties, there are plenty of blokes like him, because there are colourful characters.

He knows NRL players, top-tier NRL players very well, he knows organised crime figures well; he used to run a famous brothel called Stilettos in Sydney, where lawyers, journos, footie players; everybody, passes through. He’s a great cultivator of people and information, and he also loves a punt and loves to win and, with all those factors, he’s been at the centre of a number of gambling scandals where the allegation is that NRL players have passed him information, or horse racing identities, inside information, or have collaborated with him to fix the outcome of sometimes tier 1 matches so he can win money. Now, that’s not been proven, so you’ve got to stress that, but he’s just a great example of the danger that’s there: when you’ve got somebody who does have that reach into professional sports, into organised crime, who’s got money to play with, his friends would say he’s a loveable rogue, and he also has the media onside, so he can sort of float through all the different stratas of society. Having a brothel in Sydney as well is, in his world, great cachet, or was. His critics would say he’s a real danger to the integrity of sport.

His mates and supporters say a great bloke who loves a punt. I’m not going to comment, for legal reasons. Francis Leach I’ll go to you with this, Paul and then you, Russell. It’s interesting, because if you read the Australian Crime Commission report that was released around the same time as the ASADA investigation began into the Essendon Football Club in February 2012, I think it was, that was at the core of what it wrote about.

It basically talked, at the heart of it, about just how quickly the slide was for professional sports people and semi-professional sports people into the web of influence within organised crime. When you read that, did that come as a shock to you, as somebody who’s involved with professional sports people, or did you get a sense that that was already a threat to the integrity of sport? Paul Marsh I think, given my international experience in cricket, I’ve seen exactly that play out, particularly in the subcontinent.

Francis Leach Tell us how it would work. Paul Marsh An example, there was quite a famous case of a Pakistani player by the name of Mohammad Amir, who’s just actually come back; I think he had a five-year ban. But he was basically, I suppose, groomed from the age of 15; they plucked him out as a talent, they put him into the national cricket academy in Pakistan, where a fellow called Salman Butt, who ended up being the captain of Pakistan, was there and took him under his wing. That then led into – and I’ll cut the story a bit short – an introduction to Salman’s agent. The agent then started talking to him about match fixing.

The kid was 16 or 17 by this point and had no idea about what all this meant. He was then brought into a situation where he’d had a conversation that had been taped and then therefore he was incriminated, and then the question was popped, and the agent said, “Ask your captain” which was by this stage the guy Salman Butt, “whether this is all okay”, and the captain said yes. All of a sudden he’s bowling no-balls in a test match at Lords, the News of the World have got hold of the sting and he’s in jail, along with two other team mates.

So often it’s a young kid being groomed from a very early age, and they’re in the middle of something that they just can’t get themselves out of. And there are heaps of examples in world sport of these types of things. A lot of it is just they’re young, innocent, stupid – whatever – but all of a sudden their lives are ruined by it.

The people that are approaching them are criminals; it is organised crime, because they see they can make money off the back of an action that they can control on the field. So it’s definitely happening. I think that report was a beat-up, in many respects. Francis Leach In what ways, do you think?

Paul Marsh I don’t think it’s been proven to be accurate as it was laid out that day. There are certainly examples, like Nick’s talked about; whether that’s following through with players actually fixing matches in this country, I’m not so sure about that, but I think the two sports that I’ve worked in – mainly in cricket – the players in this country are well awake to the threats here. I probably see it a bit less so with AFL; I’m not sure that this has really hit our code so much yet, but the fact it’s happened in rugby league is of concern, and it’s something that we’re very awake to. Francis Leach Russell, the story that Paul paints there reminds me, in a way, of the story of Sonny Liston 40 years ago, who was born and basically became a creature of the mob as a boxer and had to basically be at the beck and call of his paymasters right until he died. But it’s different now, isn’t it, because what we have is a more sophisticated organisation, a transglobal culture which is so much harder to police, and a more sophisticated approach to cheating, where it’s not just about winning and losing, but it’s within the match, within the contest itself, where you could be bowling no-balls and affecting the outcome of matches but, more importantly, delivering a payday to those who you’re working for.