‘The money, man, the money'

It's not in cricket alone; match-fixing has existed in other sports too, and in various forms. Karthik Krishnaswamy takes a look at a few such cases that rocked the world of sport.

“Funny thing. I sit around now and I think, ‘Ain't that Sweeney something?' He looks like a little choirboy, a legitimate kid. So why did he do it? The money, man, the money. That's why we all did it.” With these words conclude mobster Henry Hill's first-hand account in Sports Illustrated of his role in the Boston College basketball point-shaving scandal of 1978-79.

Jim Sweeney was one of the Boston players whom Hill (later immortalised by Ray Liotta in the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas) paid to shave points in nine games that season, in order to place winning bets on the match outcomes.

The parallels between that case and the Lord's spot-fixing controversy are obvious — Hill could have just as easily been talking of Mohammad Amir, the 18-year-old fast-bowling prodigy implicated in the spot-fixing allegations. Naïve, vulnerable, and similar adjectives will attach themselves to the Pakistan left-armer were he to be found guilty of the allegations of spot-fixing levelled against him.

‘The money, man, the money'. It has both fuelled sport's engine and punctured its tyres.

“I do love money,” said Hansie Cronje, confessing to accepting money from bookmakers and influencing team-mates to underperform. “I can't tell you the shame this whole affair has caused me. The great passion I have for my country and my team-mates and my unfortunate love of money.”

Through the history of sport, fixing has existed in various forms, including the practice of teams agreeing to manufacture a mutually beneficial result. Ahead of the final group ‘B' match in the 1982 World Cup, a 1-0 win for Germany over Austria guaranteed both teams progress to the second round at the expense of Algeria.

After Germany took the lead in the 10th minute, the two teams proceeded to pass the ball about with little intention of breaching the opponent's defence, amid scenes of protest from the crowd, including that of a German fan burning the flag of his country. FIFA had to let the result stand, but ruled that the final two matches of each group would be played simultaneously in future World Cups.

Italian football is notorious for its tolerance to this sort of fixing, especially in late-season games where one side battles relegation or scraps for the title and the other has little to play for. “This is so common that late in the season many bookmakers won't accept bets on such matches,” wrote former Italy striker Gianluca Vialli in his book ‘The Italian Job', in which he compared the football cultures of England and Italy.

However questionable this sort of rigging is, it pales in comparison (as we are conditioned to believe) to the fixing of matches by bribing players to under-perform or by influencing match officials. Here are five such cases, mostly of recent vintage, that rocked sport:

The Black Sox scandal

The 1919 baseball World Series, the first staged after World War I, saw American league champion Chicago White Sox lose unexpectedly to Cincinnati Reds. It later emerged that several White Sox players had conspired with gamblers to throw some of the games. The scandal saw the owners of the Major League franchises appoint the first ever Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Landis, to take action against the fixers. A day after a grand jury had acquitted them (and also New York gangster Arnold Rothstein, believed to be the string-puller), after evidence including player confessions went missing, Landis banned eight White Sox players for life.

Calciopoli

Italian football went into crisis in 2006 when transcripts of telephone conversations revealed that Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi had tried to influence the appointment of referees for his club's matches during the 2004-05 season. Further investigations found that other clubs, including AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina, were also involved. Juventus was stripped of its 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles and relegated to Serie B, while Milan suffered a 30-point deduction from its 2005-06 total, and Lazio and Fiorentina were expelled from UEFA competition for the next season.

The Davydenko affair

During the 2007 Orange Prokom Open in Sopot, Poland, online betting agent Betfair noticed unusual betting patterns on a game between world number four Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello, who had never reached the final of an ATP event. At the end of the first set, which Davydenko won 6-2, Betfair noted the placing of a number of large bets favouring Arguello. Eventually, Davydenko forfeited the game with an injury, after he lost the second set and trailed 1-2 in the third.

Betfair notified tennis governing body ATP of the volume of bets on the match, and voided all bets. The match had attracted bets totalling $7 million, 10 times the usual amount wagered on a contest of a similar level. In September 2008, Davydenko and Arguello were cleared of all charges, after ATP's exhaustive probe revealed no evidence of wrongdoing.

The NBA betting scandal

In July 2007, an FBI investigation revealed that Tim Donaghy, an NBA referee, had bet on games during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, including those he officiated in. The FBI also alleged that he had also made calls that influenced the results of these games.

Donaghy pleaded guilty to the charges, and said that he provided bookies with inside information on games. “By having this non-public information, I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games,” he said.

Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Starcraft skulduggery

No sport is immune to corruption — not even video games. And we aren't talking about your garden-variety cheat codes. The multiplayer fantasy game Starcraft is phenomenally popular in South Korea, where millions watch professional gamers battle it out on live television. In May this year, it came to light that several pro-gamers, including an all-time great in Ma Jae Yoon (popularly known by his screen name sAviOr) were involved, in cahoots with illegal betting sites, in a scam that involved throwing matches for money. The Korean e-Sports Players' Association (KeSPA) banned 11 players from all official competition and leagues and erased all their titles from its records.