Illegal gambling: Modern sport’s cancer

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THE  international conference organised by the United Nations  Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) in Doha, Qatar, in April last year, declared that revenue from gambling and betting in sport amounts to an estimated US$3 trillion.

The majority of this revenue is derived from illegal gambling and betting in sport. This money is siphoned from sport and does not advance sport in any manner. The commercialisation and globalisation of sport has given birth to a powerful, dangerous and ugly spectre.

The illegal betting and match fixing industry has developed into an intricate and well-oiled machinery, almost as powerful as the Mafia of Italy. It is one of the scary symbols and face of organised crime in the contemporary sporting world.

Almost all sport codes, without exception, are affected. Asia has become the epicentre of the illegal betting industry with tentacles all over the world. Southern Africa is no exception.

The on-going court case involving the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA), other officials and football players is ample evidence that the scourge of illegal betting and match-fixing is here in Southern Africa, without a shadow of doubt.

Even the image of the South African Football Association (SAFA) has been tainted by serious allegations of match fixing and improper conduct by those in positions of power. Other officials have even been investigated and found guilty of transgressions in the “beautiful game”.

FIFA has given them lengthy bans from football. Match-fixing makes a mockery of the values of excellence, hard work, fair play and sportsmanship. Just like doping, match fixing destroys the very foundations of sport that has made it so popular and a global phenomenon.

History can recall that match fixing and illegal gambling were popularised in the United States by the Mafia, especially in boxing. Professional boxers were bribed or coerced by other means to “take dives” during fights resulting in undeserving boxers winning bouts.

Given the increased money in the sport of boxing, one would be truly naïve to think that this threat to the sport has gone away. It is like a cancer eating at the heart of sport, its integrity and popularity amongst the paying public.

It is a serious breach between sport and the fans. Who wants to watch a sporting competition whose outcome is manipulated and determined by people sitting in some hideout thousands of miles away?

The combined onslaughts of match fixing and illegal gambling are also an attack on the Olympic Movement and all it stands for. It should not be surprising, therefore, that very soon, we might be watching predetermined track and field races and other sporting contests at the Olympic Games.

The Olympic motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” referring to “Faster, Higher and Stronger” will not apply anymore. It will be relegated into the dust-bin of history.

The deafening silence of sport authorities on this matter speaks volumes about the dearth or absolute absence of concerted efforts to combat the scourge of match fixing in Southern Africa.

The sports authorities like a deer are dazed and caught by the glare of headlights on a busy highway. Most of them do not have a clue as to how to respond to this matter.

The embarrassing thing is that they do not bother to admit this serious challenge to their sport systems and seek help from national and international law enforcement authorities in confronting the myriad of issues related to match fixing and illegal betting.

The time for confronting this scourge in Southern African sport is now. However, authorities have to start by acknowledging that there is a problem. Sport authorities can no longer afford to be in denial. Just like in the medical world, acknowledgement of existence of an illness is the first step towards recovery. Going forward, one then seeks appropriate diagnosis of the ailment in order to find the correct therapy. It is therefore dangerous to keep quiet about an illness.

Talking about it is actually a good thing because it leads one to seek assistance from all corners. In confronting match–fixing and illegal gambling, one has to acknowledge that perpetrators will probably be a step ahead in terms of their machinery and operations but that does not mean that sports leaders should give up.

They should seek advice from national and international law enforcement agencies, IT experts, financial institutions and experts, forensic auditors and investigators as well as many others.

All of these experts can give a clear indication of the seriousness and depth of the problem. It is high time sport authorities in Southern Africa hunted as a pack in order to catch these crooks.

However, more importantly there must be education campaigns as well as extensive consultations led by the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 and Confederation of Southern African National Olympic Committees (COSANOC) to sensitise both athletes and officials. Judges, referees and umpires have to be above reproach as they are key allies in observing strange behaviour and reporting bribery attempts by representatives of organised crime.

The stage has been set for a monumental battle against organised crime in Southern Africa. The most vital and key   responses have to come from sports leaders and authorities to make sure that they safeguard and uphold the integrity of sport.

One country cannot do it alone. It is too much of a task but together Southern Africa can make a difference and a big statement in world sport today. It is up to the sport leaders to rise to and meet this challenge. History will judge them harshly if they adopt a “hear no evil, see no evil” approach, burying their collective heads into the sand like the proverbial ostriches. Action speaks louder than words. Failure is not an option in this fight to save sport.

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