John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Let crowd see the dodgy odds

Nobble crooks by displaying suspicious bets on scoreboard.

Time will tell whether the furore engulfing former Black Cap Lou Vincent affects NZ's hosting of the World Cup, though John Key believes it wont. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Time will tell whether the furore engulfing former Black Cap Lou Vincent affects NZ's hosting of the World Cup, though John Key believes it wont. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant. Cricket, a beautiful game in sunlight, should bring the corruption in its back alleys on to the field. Put it right up there on the scoreboard.

This, I realise, is about the last thing a once-respectable game would want to do. But it has reached a point when this game has nothing to lose. The International Cricket Council is getting nowhere with discreet investigations of match fixing.

Inviting players to speak confidentially to its anti-corruption unit about any approaches made to them has not been effective. It is going to be even less successful after Brendon McCullum's experience this week. The leak of his testimony is unlikely to entice any more to come forward.

After waiting so long for prosecutions by its governing body, cricket has passed the point of public credibility. Nobody likes to say this out loud but when talking about an unexpected result in cricket, the usual sporting accolades, "winning against the odds", "a turn up for the books", no longer sound metaphorical.

New Zealand and Australia, hosting the Cricket World Cup next year, should propose a different response. New Zealand is about to pass a law making match fixing a criminal offence here, as it is in England. But it would be worth remembering that regulation is not the only solution to most problems. Information can be more effective.

Match fixing prospers because the bookmakers and their Indian underworld networks have the information advantage. Only they know the fix is in. How hard would it be for the Dubai-based ICC to give its anti-corruption investigators the resources to infiltrate those networks?

And when they hear of a fix - or more likely, notice suspiciously good odds on offer - they need not start a laborious forensic inquiry to find the nobbled players. Since the fixed match or series is probably already under way, their suspicion should be made public.

Flag it on the scoreboard at the game, which means it would also be mentioned on television and everyone following the match would be aware the stronger side was under suspicion.

The poor suckers who take these bets against a fix would be better informed too.

The mere announcement of this precaution for the Cricket World Cup could be enough to avoid the event's contamination. What team or individual players would want to be performing under a red flag on the scoreboard, indicating it might not be trying very hard.

Spectators would know which team was the stronger and every error its players made would be examined in that light. If the suspicion was wrong, every player in the stronger team would set out to prove it wrong. It would be a powerful force for concentration at the crease, consistent bowling and faultless performances in the field.

Match fixing must be expensive. When a crook has nobbled enough crucial players to arrange a result, he is going to need to offer spectacular odds to attract enough takers to cover his expenses. The odds must be spectacularly generous.

If the web has become a network of cricket's corruption, the antidote becomes much easier. Smartphones are essentially private media no matter how many phones are receiving the data.

Put the same information on a public screen and you change its impact.

It's one thing to have millions of smartphone readers looking at an incredible bet as mostly silent individuals, another thing to post the bet on a big screen where a crowd will see it.

The Prime Minister does not believe this latest round of revelations will do any harm to New Zealand's hosting of the World Cup. That statement can probably be put in the same category as McCullum's statement of continued confidence in the ICC anti-corruption unit. Tui ads.

A sport now dominated by India, where corruption is rife in every branch of life, will not get much action from its governing body. New Zealand and Australia need to try something different.

Cricket is a wonderfully multi-dimensional game, or it was in its longer forms that I used to follow avidly.

The scoreboard was laden with numbers that recorded batting tallies, bowling figures, fall of wickets, methods of dismissal and sundry items besides innings totals.

All of these added something to the fascination of the game, so why not put up a separate public display for the corruption that now seems to be rife? Match officials wouldn't have to prove anything, just monitor the game's gambling parasites.

The mere threat would probably deter them. We could be surprised at how quickly sunlight works.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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