First, the facts.
When a ball strays six inches off line during a crucial point in a tennis match, it won’t be considered a near miss anymore. If a ball hits the net on match point, eyebrows will be raised. Every miss, no matter how unassuming, will be taken with suspicion. Football, cricket, badminton to an extent, horse racing of course and now tennis... There’s no end to it. So it seems. Tennis, considered a hallowed sport almost bereft of corruption, is under fixing scanner.
After BBC News and BuzzFeed came up with the revelations, doubt and disbelief crept into everyone’s mind. The report suggests betting syndicates in Russia and Italy are involved. Tennis authorities – ATP and ITF – failed to act because of lack of evidence despite having laws to prevent sports fraud in those countries.
>>Also Read: Time to Fix the Fixing Bug
What if these things take place in Chennai Open or for that matter, in Challenger Series and ITF Futures of a smaller scale in India? Do we have effective laws in place to check such practice? No. Is it time India wakes up? Cricket has shown law enforcement agencies can do nothing even if they know who is betting and who all are fixing. The amount (though not official) varies between Rs 10,000-15000 crore a match (big ones like India vs Pak or India vs Aus).
Betting is not a legalised activity in India, except for on horse racing. But offenders are bookable only under the Gambling Act, in which the penalty is negligible. As one top cop involved with investigating the 2000 match-fixing and 2013 IPL betting and spot-fixing scandal says, “At best, the person will be fined Rs 100.” More than legalising betting, perhaps the need of the hour is the Sports Prevention of Fraud Bill to criminalise illegal betting and match-fixing. Otherwise, no matter how hard one tries, betting and fixing cannot be controlled in India. S Sreesanth & Co have not been penalised, despite police claiming enough evidence. “It doesn’t hold in the court of law,” says the official. “Anyway, Delhi Police is appealing against it.”
Former Chief Justice of Haryana and Punjab, Mukul Mudgal did extensive study during his investigation of the 2013 IPL scandal after being appointed chairman of the three-member probe committee by Supreme Court. He dug out a few truths about the industry. Though there is no apparent figure listed against the volume of betting in the country, he felt during the India vs Pakistan semifinal of the 2011 World Cup, it crossed the Rs 10,000 crore mark.
“Because it is an unorganised sector, people are not sure how much money is involved but it is a huge amount,” he tells Express. This he concluded after going through statistics and available data besides interviewing people associated with betting. As a lover of sports, Mudgal wants it to be clean. The only way ahead he feels is legalising betting. “There are points I would like to stress upon,” he says. “First, betting is done with black money. Because it is not legalised, everything is in black. We don’t know where from and how the money is coming and who is making profits. What legalising betting would do is ensure that every bookmaker and people involved are registered. All earnings and profits will be taxable. The government will generate revenue. That’s how it is in European countries. Second, if monitored, the money will not go to funding of underworld like it is now,” says Mudgal. “We found during our investigation such things are happening.”
Another reason why Mudgal feels betting should be legalised is, it will help stop fixing. “There can be agencies and commissions looking into matches and pattern of betting. If there are suspicions, agencies can flag authorities to take action, like in Europe.”
However, former Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, under whom the 2013 IPL scandal was unearthed, differs. The top cop, also part of the 2000 match-fixing probe team, feels it is not correct that legalisation will stop illegal betting. “Have you heard of anybody who has paid through cheque or anyone betting through cheque? Even if you legalise betting, do you think people will bet with white money? People use this as an opportunity to use black money and they will continue with it. Who are those who bet huge amounts? People like you and me, who can afford Rs 10-100 or Rs 1000 as bet, will do it legally,” he said.
“Even if betting is legalised, both platforms will co-exist. Don’t be surprised if you find the volume of illegitimate betting is more than legal ones. Because, how many would want payments in cheques? Legalising betting will not help. In Indian conditions, no one bets in white. Cricket or tennis, it will be the same.”
One point both Mudgal and Kumar agree on is implementation of the Sports Prevention of Fraud Bill. “It’s the only way government agencies will get teeth,” says Kumar. Legally speaking, Mudgal feels this will limit, if not end, cheating and spot-fixing.
Aaj ka rate kya khula? Aaj ka satta kya hai? It’s like rupee versus dollars, like stock exchange. Who do you think opens the rate? The betting odds? According to a top cop, it is being controlled by D-Group or the underworld. They are the ones who fix the rate for the day. During the investigation in 2013 the cops came across such modules. All these parties work in layers. First layer has powerful dons and the next layers which exist in big cities and then there are small-time bookies who take the betting in gali-mohallahs and localities. These are connected internally.
Did you know
Professional basketball referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to two federal charges after he was accused of betting on games, using his relationship with players, coaches and owners to his advantage. He admitted to betting on games he officiated.
Perhaps the first major betting scandal in sport, eight White Sox players were accused of throwing games during the 1919 World Series. Having lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds, all eight were banned for life after being accused of losing in exchange for money from gamblers. They were initially acquitted but Judge Kenesaw Landis, the sport’s first commissioner, decreed all eight be banned.