A Historical Perspective of Match Fixing in Sport

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In the ancient Olympics competitors were required to take an oath to preserve the integrity of the competition. Nonetheless Olympic athletes taking a dive for a bribe was apparently commonplace in classical Greece. So it seems that match fixing is as old as sport itself. This is of course no excuse for recent events. It offers no more limit to liability than to say that bank robbery is as old as banks, or arson as old as fire. But it does help to get some historical perspective.

In more modern times match fixing has also been rife in professional sport. Most famous of all perhaps is the ‘Black Sox’ scandal, when the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series. Eight members of that team were banned for life for intentionally losing to the Cincinnati Reds. In the process they made the 1919 series one of the most infamous in sporting history. The Black Sox scandal was a result of player ties to the Chicago underworld, and set the pattern of established crime syndicates being linked to professional sports fixing. It may be unfair but judging by photos of the guilty players in the Black Sox scandal the authorities should have seen it coming. This motley crew is not a group you would trust with your lunch money…

Match fixing of some form of another has affected most sports, but giving the popularity of ‘the world game’it is no surprise that football has been at the centre of some of sports biggest scandals. In 1964 eight players from English association football were jailed for match fixing. And just last year 17 people were arrested in Germany for allegations of a match fixing syndicate encompassing football leagues from at least six European nations. More spectacularly a Malaysian betting syndicate was found to have fixed English Premier League matches in the late 90s by bribing security guards to trip the ground’s electrics with remote controlled detonators.  According to gambling regulations if the matches were abandoned after half time then the result when play was abandoned would stand. The syndicate just waited until the score was what they wanted then switched off the floodlights. Amazingly they managed to pull of the Ocean’s Eleven style stunt in at least three games.  Still, the simplest way to fix a game of skill will always remain a matter of convincing one side to underperform.

Undoubtedly there have been cases of match fixing in cricket which have gone undetected, but the public history of corruption in cricket really begins at the beginning of this century. In 2000 South African captain Hansie Cronje was spectacularly accused by Indian police of being involved in match fixing. After initial denials Cronje eventually admitted to being involved in a number of illegal activities related to match fixing. Cronje admitted to accepting $15,000 for ‘forecasting results’ of the 2000 ODI series in India – although not match fixing. Later it emerged that Cronje also offered Herselle Gibbs and Henry Williams $15,000 each to underperform in the ODI in Nagpur – although apparently neither accepted the money. Gibbs performed well and Williams sustained an injury. Cronje also admitted to accepting $30,000 for South Africa to lose wickets in a Test in India in 1996 – although he insisted he didn’t do anything and South Africa lost anyway. Cronje was then paid $50,000 for ‘team information’ during the Indian tour of South Africa. Gibbs and Williams were suspended from cricket for six months for their part in the scandal. Cronje was banned for life.

Famously Hansie Cronje was killed in 2002 in a plane crash in South African Outeniqua Mountains. Cronje was the only passenger and he and the two pilots all died instantly. Conspiracy theories emerged immediately.  Suspicions of a possible darker side to cricket match fixing were raised again in 2007 when Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in a Kingston hotel room. Pakistan had just lost a World Cup game to Ireland in controversial circumstances and the link between the events seemed almost too self evident. The initial pathologist’s report found Woolmer had been murdered by strangulation.  The case understandably made international headlines and the world watched as contradictory pathology and toxicology reports served only to muddle the facts. The final enquiry returned an open verdict. It is still unclear if Bob Woolmer was murdered or died of natural causes.

There have been eleven international cricket players banned for being involved in match fixing – all since 2000. Of these two were from Pakistan, four from India, three from South Africa, one from the West Indies and one from Kenya. There have also been a number of other players who have been sanctioned but escaped a ban – most notably Shane Warne and Mark Waugh in 1998 for providing information about ‘the weather’. Warne and Waugh’s meteorological skills are no doubt exceptional, but given the furor it is probably unsurprising that neither took up a weatherman job after retirement.

So it seems match fixing is an almost unavoidable part of sport. The authorities must do everything within their power to prevent it, and those found guilty deserve the upmost condemnation. But we should not be surprised when it happens. If sport is a reflection of the human character then we must be prepared for greed, avarice, arrogance and self interest to be part of that picture.

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