The spot-fixing scandal that hit cricket over the weekend, when the News of the World revealed that two Pakistani bowlers had, seemingly, bowled no-balls at pre-arranged moments in return for money, is a great shame for Pakistan. If ever there was a country in need of some good news, this it it. Yet now they face being banned from international competition in their national sport.
It is also a tragedy for cricket. Mohammad Amir, the 18-year old fast bowler responsible for two of the dodgy no-balls, is inarguably one of the most exciting prospects in the game and – until Sunday’s revalations – had a brilliant career ahead of him. But if the allegations in the News of the World prove to be true, he may be banned for life. With the sport so worryingly devoid of fast-bowling talent, this is depressing beyond belief.
But one thing this scandal isn’t is an excuse for greater government intervention in gambling in the UK. Monday’s Times suggested that sporting authorities are already lobbying for a crack-down on gambling, citing French moves to regulate online gambling and tax sports wagers (effectively outlawing betting exchanges like Betfair in the process) as an example worth following. The Times also notes that ‘unregulated gambling’ in India is behind much of the corruption in cricket, implying that government action is the solution to cricket’s woes.
But this paints a very misleading picture. As former England captain Michael Atherton points out in the same paper:
The only only bookmakers who offer markets on elements of the game open to so-called micromanipulation are those in India where bookmaking is illegal and designed to avoid tax and service the black market. Ladbrokes wouldn’t give you a price on Mohammad Amir bowling a no-ball in the third over. [Empahsis added]
And this is the crucial point. Gambling in India is only ‘unregulated’ because it is prohibited (with the exception of 13 casinos, horse-racing, and state lotteries). But prohibiton doesn’t mean that the prohibited activity doesn’t take place, it just means that organized crime takes over. Corruption like that alleged in Pakistani cricket is the inevitable, inescapable result. Taxing sports wagers in the UK is a wholly irrelevant red herring.