Betting on sport has been around as long as organised competition has existed.
Unfortunately, with sports betting comes greedy punters (and athletes themselves) that want to make quick money by influencing a result one way or another. And with the rise in popularity of online sports betting the past few decades, these individuals now have more opportunities than ever to sacrifice the sanctity of sport for money.
Cricket is especially vulnerable not only to match fixing (manipulating the end result of the match) but also spot fixing (manipulating a specific aspect of the game that can also be bet on). These spot bets can be seemingly innocuous (and otherwise normal) events in a match that can lead colossal illegal betting wins for punters with inside connections.
Given both of their long histories, cricket and sports betting are seemingly intertwined as far back as the beginning of the game. Below we have outlined some of the major controversies that both shaped and shook the cricket world from the 1600s through today.
Cricket's First Major Betting Scandal
While cricket in some form or another has been played since the late 1500s, it was another half-century or so before the sport started to be widely bet on. Coincidentally, gambling was supposedly what introduced the game's first 'patrons' to the game, as "some of the gamblers decided to strengthen their bets by forming their own teams" according to A History of Cricket, Volume 1 by HS Altham. These would eventually become England's first county teams. It was also around this time (late 1600s) that the sport started receiving major press coverage as well, which only fuelled would-be bettors' access to the sport.
So considering how much of the sport's rising popularity was owed to gambling, it was perhaps only a matter of time before a major betting scandal would erupt. And in 1817 that's exactly what happened when famed 19th century cricketer William Lambert was banned from Lord's Cricket Ground for life following accusations that he didn't give his best effort for England in a match against Nottingham. Bookmakers subsequently were also prohibited from setting foot onto Lord's until the 1970s.
Online Betting Scandals And Cricket In 90s and 2000s
Ever since, scandals in cricket have sadly become commonplace, and the ease and popularity of online sports betting has made way for a whole new wave of scandals:
1995: Aussie stars Mark Waugh and Shane Warne are fined for providing weather and pitch conditions to an Indian bookmaker. A few years later, the reputation of the Australian Cricket Board was also denounced when the media revealed that they had initially tried to cover up the scandal.
2000: South African captain Hansie Cronje and three other players are implicated for match fixing after a phone conversation between Cronje and a member of an Indian betting syndicate is obtained by Delhi police. After confessing providing inside information to a London-based bookmaker for cash, later revelations revealed that he had accepted over $100,000 from gamblers since 1996, and he was banned from the game for life.
2010: A UK newspaper posts a video taken by an undercover reporter of sports agent Mazhar Majeed counting out large stacks of "bribe money", and predicting that Pakistani bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir would bowl no-balls at specific points in the next day's Test match against England. Sure enough, both Amir and Asif bowled no balls at the overs described in the video, and Majeed was arrested that evening for bookmaker defraud charges. Amir, Asif, and captain Salman Butt were later found guilty as well and given jail sentences and multi-year bans from the sport.
2012: Five Indian Premier League cricketers are given bans after being caught in a sting operation proving they had received illegal funds in exchange for spot-fixing.
2013: Three more Indian IPL players cricketers and 23 others are arrested by Delhi police for alleged spot-fixing. Seventeen of this group were later released on bail due to a lack of evidence.
In a separate incident, Bangladeshi star and the youngest centurion in test cricket history), Mohammad Ashraful, is banned for eight years (later reduced to five) after confessing to being paid for fixing Bangladesh Premier League matches the previous season.
Ongoing Cricket Corruption In 2016 (And Possible Solutions)
Currently, the cricket corruption spotlight is back on South Africa. Former South African international player Gulam Bodi was charged in mid-January with allegations of match fixing (as well as possible criminal charges) in the country's domestic Ram Slam T20 competition by Cricket South Africa.
At the end of 2015, Australian cricketers were issued a warning about corruption at the end of 2015 after it was reported that 2.2 billion was wagered on the domestic Big Bash T20 league the previous season. A large percentage of these wagers were taken through sportsbooks Betfair and Betfair UK, which saw 28.6% and 70% rises in BBL bets compared to the previous season.
As the fight against corruption goes on, other solutions are being tossed about from all directions.
These and other incidents have spurned Betfair, other major sportsbooks like William HIll and Bet365, and sport governing bodies from cricket to netball to lead a charge for changes in the betting process. One idea is to permit only on-phone or in-person betting, so that sportsbooks wouldn't be taking money from offshore bettors and entities not subject to Aussie law. An Indian Supreme Court panel recently called to legalise sports betting in their country in hopes to reduce match manipulation.
Despite the game's dark past, a bright outlook about the future of online gambling and cricket comes from Scroll.in writer Alam Srinivas: "legal betting can help the regulators and investigators to track down the fixers. Since a legal activity will leave an online or paper trail, it will become easier for the law-enforcers to pinpoint patterns and distortions that hint at 'fixing'".
Given the history of the sport (and gambling's culture ingrained therewithin), the only sure thing is that whatever the solution is, it won't be an overnight fix.