Under a plan by the Victorian Government, Australia’s major sports would get a financial reward from the gambling organisations that profit from taking bets on, for example, who is going to win the Melbourne Cup, or the winning margin in the NRL grand final.

As the Sunday Agereported yesterday, Australians wager $1.6 billion annually on sports, none of which goes back into the sports themselves.

But put the words “sport” and “gambling” together and alarm bells ring. The spectre of match fixing hangs over cricket’s recent past. In the United States and Canada right now, ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is having to answer some awkward questions about his alleged involvement in an illegal bookmaking ring.

Closer to home, the controversial betting exchange, Betfair, has opened for business in Tasmania, giving punters the chance to bet not only on who they think will win, but who they think may lose. Betfair’s opponents say it’s a concept that will promote corruption. Its proponents are quick to point out that Betfair already puts money back into the Tasmanian racing industry.

If the Victorian plan goes ahead, Australia’s major sporting codes will find themselves with piles of cash from doing not very much, an arrangement you can’t imagine they’ll argue with.

But with that money comes a huge responsibility, one that is perhaps more about perceptions than practicality. By linking professional sport and gambling, serious regulatory safeguards need to be put in place to a) protect the integrity of the sports and sportspeople being bet on, and b) protect the integrity of the gambling organisations themselves.

Players will need to be educated about what is appropriate, and codes of conduct would need to make it very clear where everyone’s responsibilities begin and end. And that means coaches, club presidents, board members, trainers – anyone with the ability to influence the outcome of a sporting event.

Looking further into the future, is it a mistake to suggest this is the dawning of a new relationship between sport and gambling? With sports like the AFL already looking at buying their own media outlets, who’s to say that one day, they won’t also be running their own betting operations? If it’s good for business, it’s good for the sport, right?

Peter Fray

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