Off the Wall

It should surprise no one, least of all readers of this column, that the probe into betting on a recent NRL match is now likely to be expanded to take in four or five more games.

The plunge on who would score first, and in what manner, would have delivered those involved over a quarter of a million dollars, had it come off.

The fact that it did not come off is not really relevant - what is relevant is whether players or officials were involved.

The fact that betting on other matches is now under review simply confirms that the game's administrators have to take the issue seriously.

If "suspicious activity" has been identified on five or six games, what is to say that there has not been wider malpractice that is still below the radar because it is comparatively minor in dollar terms?

I warned three or four years ago, via this column, that the growth of sports betting might be a welcome revenue stream for the game, and for clubs in particular, but there were serious problems, and challenges, accompanying it.

My warning, and it has been made by others, has gone largely unheeded.

When betting on NRL matches ended at 7PM on Friday night - and was confined to "picking the winners" and similar options - the opportunity for rorts was minimal.

But in recent years there have been more betting agencies set up, a massive growth in on line betting, and a particular growth in betting during matches.

The more options that are available, and especially when those options include selecting who will achieve a "forty-twenty" kick, or who will score the first try after half time and so on, then the more opportunity there is for rorts in which players and/or officials, are involved.

All of that has brought us exactly where we are today - with doubts now being raised over incidents in half a dozen or so games this season.

It is unwelcome, but it us surely not unexpected.

The fact it is not confined to rugby league is no comfort.

The corruption in cricket, surrounding the Pakistan team, extends beyond deliberately losing matches - the biggest "sting" was on items such as how many no balls were bowled in an over, and when they were bowled.

The similarity between that form of betting and corruption and what is being alleged in NRL matches is all too obvious.

If rorts are confirmed, and players proven to be involved, then their careers in the game must end. And if at all possible criminal prosecutions should be pursued.

Our one hope must be that the police investigation now under way is through, and completed as quickly as possible.