In the insane world we live in, it is refreshing to come across a decision of sanity and reason.

The MCG trust announced this week that it would not be renewing the contract for the paradoxically named BetFair to broadcast live odds on the stadia’s big screen.  I suggest they also look at scrapping Dermie & Huddo, as well as the other excessively loud and intrusive advertising that blasts from the speakers after every quarter and just leave people be for a few minutes, but one step at a time.

After the best part of two years overseas, I have returned to a football world completely immersed and obsessed with betting.  Last year $300 million was bet on AFL matches.  It is nigh impossible these days to watch or listen to a sports broadcast (or be at a game) without being bombarded with ads from one of the main betting agencies.  BetFair (no such thing), Tabcorp (inc. TAB Sportsbet & Luxbet), SportingBet (are they implying you have a sporting chance – cause it’s not likely!), Centrebet, Betezy, Sports Acumen, IAS Bet, Bet247 (they don’t want to miss anyone), Ozbet, Betchoice (how much money would you like to lose today?), Betstar – the list goes on – the obsession with betting has left me more than a little freaked_out.

Clearly something is amiss when Richmond are favourite to beat anyone, let alone Carlton

The media commentators fare little better, constantly discussing, debating and dissecting the odds of the teams, as if they could actually have an influence on the result of the game.  Talkback callers are paid lip service for questioning the amount of betting in sport because the commentators can hardly be biting the hand that feeds them.  The three major AFL radio broadcasters Triple M, SEN and 3AW all have betting agencies as sponsors, as do Channel 7, 10, Foxtel, Channel 9’s Footy Show, the MCG, Etihad Stadium, the AFL itself and 15 of the 17 clubs.  Only Gold Coast and Sydney do not.

Sadly, once something like betting gets a foothold in the fabric of a sport it is extremely hard to reverse.  In cricket it took years, careers and the Devil himself for the ICC to act.  To this day cricket is still fighting a dirty, shady betting culture and has an asterisked reputation.  The seeds are slowly being sown in the AFL.

  • 2007 – Simon Goodwin, (Adelaide) Daniel Ward (Melbourne) and David Hale (Nth Melbourne) were fined for betting offences, while Kieran Jack (Sydney) was reprimanded
  • 2008 – North Melbourne received a suspended fine because board member Ron Joseph placed bets on Kangaroos matches
  • 2009 – Former Melbourne player David Schwarz admits to having a gambling addiction, adding to the list including Daniel Ward, Travis Johnstone, Simon Goodwin and Brendan Fevola
  • 2010 – Addam Maric, a Melbourne player, was fined in for placing a bet for a friend and in the replayed Grand Final Tyson Goldsack’s mum won $400 on him kicking the first goal after she knew he was to play forward
  • 2011 – ‘plunges’ on Daniel Marrett, Matt Maguire and Brent Guerra, all regular defenders, to kick the first goal after starting forward
  • Finally, the Heath Shaw / Nick Maxwell betting scandal, sadly it has not affected Collingwood’s momentum or winning form.

With the increase in exotic bets – first goal, most goals, most possessions, most oranges eaten at ¾ time and dirtiest jockstrap, the chances for corruption increase.  The AFL should seriously consider viewing betting advertising and sponsorship in the same light as cigarette and alcohol advertising and sponsorship.  That is, the effect it has on the game, its image and wider football community.  All three have the potential to cause harm.  What makes betting unique compared to cigarettes and alcohol is that it seeps into the game itself, onto the field of play.  In an already uneven competition, the AFL does not need question marks over results to add to the unevenness.  That is why, if for no other reason, the AFL should be most concerned.  Once the damage is done to the games reputation it takes a long long time to change.

The AFL argues that banning exotic bets would create an underground market.  Maybe, maybe not, there are arguments on both sides.  Whatever the case, the AFL should look at banning or at least minimising betting advertising and sponsorship.  By coating themselves and their partners in betting advertising it normalises betting and implicitly condones and encourages the general public to bet more money, more often.  In the same way Channel Nine should be held responsible for creating the buffoon Brendan Fevola, the AFL can be held partly responsible for any increase in problem gambling because of the money they take from agencies and the airtime and public space they provide to them.  I would argue that while the culture is still young and impressionable, the AFL should take control, regulate it and tidy it up as quickly as possible.  They should use their leadership and help shape the culture of betting in the game.  Set the boundaries around what is acceptable and what is not, people will follow.  The wider football community no longer accepts drug use, violence against women, racism or homophobia in the AFL culture because of the leadership the AFL has provided.  They should do the same with betting.

With the amount of money betting brings into the AFL, their clubs and broadcasters, is any action likely?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

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*UPDATE – Since publishing this article, this has happened…

Fans exposed to five hours of betting advertising per game

http://www.theage.com.au/national/too-many-ads-at-footy-you-bet-20120403-1wav6.html

Wilkie vs McGuirehttp://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-25/wilkie-hits-out-at-mcguire-over-pokies-laws/2941508

Dean Wallis 08-09-11 –  http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/dean-wallis-banned-for-14-weeks-20110908-1jyxi.html

Nathan Bock 05-09-11 –  http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/huge-bet-on-suns-defender-to-kick-first-goal-20110905-1jsrj.html

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