It's all so ... tawdry. A betting scandal has engulfed the ranks of the Australian Football League, with four players being named for wagering on matches. While the details are slowly emerging, a carefully choreographed piece of theatre unfolds to ensure damage is contained.
First announced five weeks ago, the AFL has been investigating the use of betting accounts in the players' own names with Betfair and Tabcorp. It's expected the inquiry - headed by AFL investigators Allan Roberts and Bill Kneebone - will expand to include other betting agencies, taking two weeks to conclude.
As pointed out by various bookies, the players can easily use the accounts of their friends and families. The fact that they overlooked this basic precaution speaks volumes of the players' stupidity, arrogance and confidence in getting away with it. Further, it suggests that a larger group of players who did have the nous to hide their dodgy wagering behind false names remain undetected.
For the record, here are the greedy idiots named so far:
Adelaide Crows midfielder Simon Goodwin, Melbourne's Daniel Ward, Swans youngster Keiren Jack and Kangaroos ruckman David Hale have been named as the four players being investigated by the AFL for betting on senior matches in the 2006 season. (ABC Online, 17/2/2007)
(Regulars might remember Simon Goodwin as the mulitple-award winning footballer who assaulted a photographer and made threats to kill after being photographed wild-eyed and out of control at 11am. Don't worry though, this won't affect his leadership potential.)
The problem with footballers punting on footy matches is obvious. Equally clear is the temptation: like bourbon and coke, jet skis and bleached blonde grid girls, gambling is one of the great bogan indulgences. Giving way too much cash to bored and listless footballers while expecting them not to wager is foolhardy in the extreme.
Hence, the AFL has a very clear policy on gambling, which it rams home with a blistering series of player seminars, online statements, monitoring of wagering activities, various kinds of "tut-tut" noises and legally-binding contracts. All of which counts for nowt. (Makes you wonder about the kind of traction other policies - like those around drug abuse, racism and misogyny - are getting with players.)
There is a Gambling Workshop at the induction camp for the newly drafted players and players are warned at annual visits to clubs by AFLPA staff.
The AFL players code of conduct states footballers are prohibited from betting "on any aspect of an AFL match".
"The AFL regulations also prohibit the passing on of information that is not publicly available concerning teams playing in any match (including the actual or likely composition of the team, players injuries, the form of players and tactics) unless given in a bona fide media interview," it states. (News.com.au, 17/2/07)
Interestingly, under this policy, players are not allowed to participate in the AFL Misbehaviour Market (betting on AFL player court appearances), since this would entail informing on "the actual or likely composition of the team". Even though the criminal justice systems conspires to ensure that players are never ever inconvenienced, there's still a chance one will slip through the net and actually miss a game because of the latest bashing, rape, drink-driving, domestic violence etc incident.
This is, of course, publicity the AFL doesn't want. It has deals with the betting companies to get a slice of the wagering action. (Why? Surely the results of a footy match are public information? If you want proof-positive of the immense power wielded by footy officials in the country, just contemplate how they manage to screw hard-headed businesses into handing over money for free.) Naturally, the AFL doesn't want anything to jeopardise the flow of cash into their coffers. This is behind The Tisers speculation that "it is believed the AFL wanted the issue hushed up until they were in a position to announce the players' penalties, believed to be hefty fines." (The Adelaide Advertiser, 17/2/07).
There's also the mystery as to why the clubs came out and named their players so quickly once the story broke that "unnamed players" were punting. (Compare and contrast with the handling of drug abuser identities - which is actually a criminal matter as well as a violation of the toothless AFL Code of Conduct.) One theory is that a story about "unnamed players" at certain clubs would lead to speculation (and evidence!) flowing out in an uncontrolled fashion. You know, people phoning up the talk-back radio saying "I saw such-and-such at the TAB", nasty rumours published on footy hate-blogs. That kind of thing. No, better to put a firebreak around the issue, hang a couple of the more stupid players out to dry and let the rest slink off quietly.
More of footy's dirty secrets escape. More evidence of the lawless, arrogant and "special" nature of Aussie Rules' elite. More undermining of the League's ability to control its players. More spin, managed information release and big-money machinations from the chiefs. More reason to hold the entire AFL in contempt and disgust.
The players in question seem to have avoided any suspension or serious penalty at all. In fact, the only things suspended were half the value of the fines:
The league handed down fines of $55,000 to three players who bet on AFL matches, while a fourth received a reprimand.
Adelaide star Simon Goodwin received the harshest penalty, slugged $40,000, although half was suspended pending any future breach of the AFL's gambling laws.
But the AFL's bark could lack any investigative bite, with football operations manager Adrian Anderson admitting the league only has access to betting information from two companies - Tabcorp and Betfair.
Adelaide said Goodwin would remain in the club's leadership group and not be punished further.
While there were no bans this time, Anderson said any player caught from now on would be suspended, or in the most extreme case banned from playing AFL. (SMH, 1/3/2007)
So they nearly got it right: full fines plus suspensions from play plus demotion for those in "leadership" positions. The message seems to be that they'll get it right next time. Maybe. I have my doubts. Perhaps the message sent is "Guys, we don't want the grief and bad press so make sure you place bets through a friend at one of the dozens of other betting outlets." This betting is probably unstoppable: Cashed up bogans like a punt and footballers will not be told what to do.
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