CHANNEL Nine and Foxtel had their ups and downs with the taxing task of covering the London Olympics, but one aspect of their nearly round-the-clock broadcasts has been a revelation: the complete absence of betting odds and the endlessly insidious inducements to gamble. It's as if a noxious, low-lying cloud of pollution has been lifted from the sports on television and you can breathe easily once again.
It would be nice to say this was the broadcasters' honourable choice, but it's actually a stipulation of the International Olympic Committee as part of selling the television rights. Whole books have been written about malfeasance at the IOC but in this instance its policy is a welcome positive. Sadly, it's only when the overlay of constant gambling information is lifted that you remember how things once were.
If it wasn't for the IOC it would be business as usual, which for Australia's various networks means working odds and gambling terminology into the fabric of their broadcasts. Advertorial and commercials that are designed to look like news breaks, such as the now ubiquitous Jaimee Rogers from TAB Sportsbet, is one thing, but the intrusion into the editorial content is noxious and distasteful.
All the major sporting broadcasts, whether it's the cricket or NRL on Channel Nine or the AFL on Channel Seven and Fox Sports, now work the odds for coming games and individual player-based bets into their presentations. It's part of the patter, and even if your ears can screen some of it out, it's hard for your eyes to miss the blaring point size of the odds flashed up underneath tiny club logos.
That inverse relationship, where the gambling nomenclature overwhelms the traditional stakeholder, is apparently a tradeoff that sporting bodies happily accept in exchange for access to the gambling industry's money. Steadily, boundaries are being wound back - live crosses in the midst of Seven's Wimbledon coverage to on-the-spot bookmaker Tom Waterhouse marred the telecast but it has set a benchmark that will be evaluated, emulated and then enhanced.
Gambling is addictive, as are cigarettes and alcohol, but it's a free-for-all when it comes to advertising the former and working it into broadcasts compared with the heavy restrictions that apply to the latter. You wouldn't put a poker machine into a problem gambler's home, but a television increasingly has the potential to be nearly as dangerous.
On the ABC's Four Corners last week, the dangers of gambling and sports converging were made clear in a report on organised crime networks and official corruption in the Victorian racing industry. Presented by The Age investigative reporter Nick McKenzie in a collaboration between the national broadcaster and this newspaper, the episode showed how criminal syndicates value thoroughbred racing as a means of laundering illegal proceeds. Allegations covered in the story that are under police investigation include race fixing and a murder last year in Middle Park.
One of the issues raised by the episode is the growth of collusion between criminals and racing industry members since the advent of exotic betting: it's a lot easier to fix a race if you've bet on a horse losing, as opposed to winning. Rugby league, for example, has already had the 2010 scandal in which a player, then Canterbury forward Ryan Tandy, was convicted of trying to obtain a financial advantage for others by deception, and also of providing false evidence to a NSW Crime Commission hearing, after there was a betting plunge on how the first points would be scored in an NRL match.
Culturally, what happens in rugby league generally arrives in the AFL after a year or two. It's difficult to imagine how the game's governing body will be able to defend the code's integrity given how it has allowed gambling to permeate every aspect of football and its weekly telecasts.
But beyond that, imagine an eight-year-old child who loves footy. They go to Auskick, wear a jumper with their favourite player's number on it and watch the game on television. To them, gambling on sport appears part of the game, a tradition. How many examples will they see in 10 years, then when they turn 18 how likely is it that they'll start gambling on the AFL? Perhaps Tom Waterhouse could provide odds on their chances of becoming an addict.
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