While the many conspiracy theories surrounding the killing of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer are serving only to bloody the waters of uncertainty right now, one thing does seem crystal clear: this was not a murder without motive. And the prime suspect is betting.
Earlier this month, in a speech that went largely unreported at the time, the chairman of the International Cricket Council’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, Lord Condon, roused the House of Lords from its postprandial slumber to explain how a gentlemen’s game was becoming a blood sport. He explained how bookmakers, through shady links with selected players, can now wield as much influence on the result of a match as the teams themselves.
“The most sinister and important [development] is the opportunity now to bet on who will lose as well as who will win during a sporting event,” Condon said.
“Although a sportsman cannot guarantee that he or his team will win, he can most certainly guarantee that they will lose. That has transformed sporting gambling and the potential for corruption in sporting events.
“The tempting and very profitable prospect for a corrupt sportsman is that working alone or with others he can fix the outcome of a sporting event, or part of it, and achieve a very significant betting coup. The betting analogy that I often draw is that the corrupt sportsman creates the equivalent of knowing in advance when the roulette wheel is going to land on red or black. Imagine the betting potential if you knew that.”
Cricket is especially susceptible to match-fixing, perhaps more so than any other sport. With the relatively recent explosion in spread betting – when you can bet on just about anything before and during the game – the potential for elements of a cricket match to be fixed has rocketed alongside the sums being wagered. (Evidence suggests that amounts in excess of $1.2bn are being bet on individual World Cup matches.)
Why? “Because of the way betting has gone, where punters now wager money on how many a player will score, how many catches he’ll take or drop, who’ll bowl the first wide, and so on – all things one player can influence,” explained one ICC official. Former Pakistan cricketer and now broadcaster Qamar Ahmed added: “Man-fixing is now the way that it happens. You bribe one or two big fish.”
Former Pakistan fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz has alleged that five Pakistan players were involved in betting.
What if Woolmer found out? What if he threatened to go public? Reports that Woolmer was planning to blow the lid on corrupt practices in a new book are being downplayed by publishers, but police are nevertheless looking into the highly suspicious defeat of Pakistan by Ireland on St Patrick’s Day – one that Woolmer presciently noted would be remembered as a “historic day for world cricket”.
Anti-corruption officials will this week review video footage of the game in an attempt to discover any pattern of unusual behaviour. “One aspect is what were the odds on Ireland if Ireland won?” said investigation leader Mark Shields. “I understand that they were extremely good if you bet on Ireland. The match-fixing thing is being looked at.” You bet it is.