MP wants betting ban on Oz sport

By Greg Taipari,

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell is calling on the TAB to suspend betting on elite Australian sports until New Zealand punters can be assured the competitions are clean and fair.

A report released by the Australian Crime Commission said major crime figures had already established business links with sporting codes and saw the relationships as a means of reaching political and business leaders through sports boardrooms.

It also warned of the potential for professional athletes to be corrupted or compromised through their use of drugs such as peptides and hormones and said crime gangs were targeting "sub-elite" players for long-term grooming.

The revelations have shaken Australia's belief in the nation as a paragon of fair play and has led to the call from Flavell asking the TAB to suspend betting on Super rugby, NRL and A-League games until it can categorically assure punters competitions from across the ditch are clean and fair.

"The news out of Australia this week about widespread doping and match-fixing in their major sports must be a huge wake-up call for New Zealand as well," Flavell said.

"This is nightmare stuff for true sports fans. One of the things we worried about with the move to professionalism was that money would corrupt the soul of sports. When it's all about the money, the real meaning of sport gets lost."

Flavell said the TAB needed to get ahead of the game and demonstrate to all New Zealanders why they should trust any sports betting at all.

"The Australian reports mean that our TAB cannot be confident that the competitions they have been taking money on are clean and fair.

"They need to tell us exactly what they are doing to track down the bad guys and why we should trust them. They cannot sit back and wait for evidence of wrong-doing to just drop into their laps," Flavell said.

"If they can't put their hands on their hearts, look us in the eye and say 'this is clean', they should not be making money from a dodgy product."

The Aussie report said the use of banned substances was also growing rapidly, expanding the market beyond professionals to club level across many codes.

It reported some sports scientists were also using professional athletes as guinea pigs, experimenting with new-generation drugs to test their effectiveness and ability to escape detection.

The report, which followed the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's discovery of possible links between the use of banned substances and crime groups 18 months ago, has rocked Australia.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay said it was important to let the appropriate authorities investigate further before suspending sports betting and potentially putting at risk people's livelihoods.

"We need to make sure the officials get to the bottom of these allegations as quickly as possible so both the public and players can have confidence in the sporting system," McClay said. "At the same time, we need to be cautious not to over-react because both in the sport themselves but many other industries including the TAB, there are a significant number of people employed and there will be all around New Zealand, local families who depend upon the incomes that come from those jobs."

The Rotorua MP was confident the TAB had measures in place to alert them if anything untoward was taking place.

"The laws in New Zealand mean there must be sufficient scrutiny of unusual outcomes in different events and therefore anything unusual should be called into question.

"It's appropriate we make sure that the rules are sufficient but I personally haven't seen any evidence of this."

The Daily Post asked six Rotorua residents whether sports betting in Australia should be suspended until the claims had been properly investigated.

Opinions were split down with half of those asked saying it should be suspended. Ngongotaha's Steph Green said the authorities needed to look like they were doing something to try to stop the allegations, while Owhata's Bevan Samuel said there was always going to be the possibility of match fixing. However, suspending betting wouldn't necessarily stop it.

TAB general manager Martin Saunders said the company shared the concerns of New Zealand sporting organisations and sports fans following the release of the report. However, suspending legal betting on Australian competitions was not the way to address the problem.

He said the New Zealand betting agency had stringent processes in place to monitor all sports betting activity.

"Integrity is our ultimate priority and we commit a huge amount of time, effort and resource to making sure our customers can be confident that the sports fixtures they are betting on are above board.

"We have the ability to proactively red-flag and suspend unusual activity and we then investigate this alongside the sporting body involved."

Saunders said the country's national betting agency had strong and effective relationships with the national sporting organisations in New Zealand.

The TAB were concerned by the implications of the Australian Crime Commission report, Saunders said.

"However, we should not rush to judge or make rash decisions until we know more and simply suspending betting on Australian sport wouldn't address the issues.

"In fact, this would only drive sports betting underground to illegal bookmakers and we've seen from previous incidents of this nature in international sport that's where the problem really is."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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