Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? (Part 2)

In the first post I offered a broad definition of “fixing”  as being “any sporting contest in which all, or any, of the outcomes of the game have been decided in advance, rather than arising naturally from the efforts of the contestants to win the match”.  I went on to identify nine types of “fix” that might fit that definition, which I called :

1. The fix proper (fixing the result)

2. The coercive fix (fixing because of outside interference)

3. The spot-fix (fixing particular incidents)

4. The tactical fix (fixing by underperforming in the hope of future advantage)

5. The tacitly accepted fix (“sports entertainment”)

6. The mutually agreed demi-fix (where a result is contrived, but not a specific result)

7. The fix of no significance (exhibition matches)

8. The professional fix (ensuring certain outcomes in the interest of entertainment)

9. The regulatory fix (being forced to ensure certain outcomes because of the playing regulations)

I suggested that all of these fixes attract some disapproval, in roughly decreasing order. However, although all fit my broad definition, only two (1 and 3) are what are usually referred to as “match-fixing”, in the sense of a “cancer” that, if left untreated, is supposed to be have the power to kill the game. Of the others :

2 is a special case, in that the blame for it attaches to agencies outside sport, and those inside sport are seen as victims, rather than perpetrators. The problem is one of many, and one of the least important, associated with corrupt or authoritarian governments and the fix is seen as an externally inflicted injury to sport, rather than an internal cancer.

4 is certainly usually condemned, but, because it is an attempt to achieve an ultimate advantage by manipulating the rules of a competition, it is seen as a form of cheating, or gamesmanship, contrary to the spirit of the game, but not, in itself, an offence against sport, in the sense that deliberately losing would be, or placing personal financial advantage above winning.

6 (although it, in many respects, resembles 4) is generally approved of, because it is seen as a legitimate tactic in pursuit of victory, and as being in the interests of the spectators (it is intended to produce an interesting finish). Only “purists” object, and their remedy lies in altering the rules of the competition, rather than punishing the perpetrators.

5 and 7 are essentially the same type of fix, except that, in sports which are classified as “sports entertainment”, there is no expectation that any contest should be anything other than scripted, whereas exhibition games and charity matches in cricket and football are generally seen as less serious forms of sports which are normally genuine. Aficionados of professional wrestling would be disappointed by a fair contest, whereas fans of football and cricket expect it to be the norm, to be departed from only in exceptional circumstances.

8 and 9 I shall return to in a moment.

So, to return to the original definition, there seem to be two additional elements that need to be added when defining the pernicious, “cancerous” form of match-fixing:

1. There must be an element of deception. This excludes 4 (where there is usually little attempt to disguise the fix), 6 and 7 (where the fixing is open) and 5 (where the performers and audience collude in a suspension of disbelief).

2. The motive must be personal self-interest, rather than legitimate sporting self-interest (trying to win the game or competition), or the interest of the crowd in seeing an entertaining contest. Before his motive was revealed, Hanse Cronje was widely applauded for making a “sporting declaration” against England, and the crowd would have seen the same game whatever his motivation.

So, to amend the definition, let us say that match-fixing is “any sporting contest in which all, or any, of the outcomes of the game have been decided in advance, rather than arising naturally from the efforts of the contestants to win the match, without the audience being aware of it, and for reasons of personal self-interest.”

Now, let us return to type no. 8, and ask whether it fits the new definition. The point is not here whether match-fixing of the first and third types are more common in T20 tournaments – though there is considerable evidence that they are – but whether the hypothetical situation I describe (in which a bowler is persuaded to bowl hittable deliveries to a star batsman in the interests of entertainment) would be objected to as match-fixing in the “cancerous” sense.

The first question is whether the audience would be aware that it was happening, to which the answer is, I think, that they probably would not. Even experienced cricket-watchers find it hard to distinguish deliberate ineptitude from the unfeigned variety, although I suspect ex-professionals are much better able to detect the signs. As it is the express intention of, for instance, the ECB that T20 is designed to attract an audience who would not otherwise be interested in cricket, it is even less likely that they would be able to do so. In any case, as I have suggested in describing the ninth type of fix, the playing conditions in T20 tournaments virtually compel the bowler to serve up hittable bowling, without the need for any covert fixing.

The second question is harder to answer. The bowler, in our hypothetical situation, might well argue that it is not only in his personal interests to obey the instructions of his employer, but in the interests of the crowd and the good of the game in general, in that a high scoring game, with plenty of spectacular batting, is what the crowds will pay to see. He might well also argue that, as a professional, there is no real difference between playing well for money and playing badly for money, if that is what is required of him.

There is, I think, another question, which is whether the audience, particularly the new, hypothetical, one that the ECB is pursuing would care if they knew that what they were watching was fixed (or half-fixed, like a half-baked baguette), or whether they would embrace the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach of professional wrestling. Would the perpetrators, in short, plead not guilty to match-fixing proper by pleading to the fifth type of fixing, and admitting that what they were purveying was “sports entertainment”?

Given that the WWE was explicitly stated to be a model for the new T20 competition when I attended an ECB presentation on the subject at the Leicestershire Members’ Forum last Autumn (you can read my account of that here), and this slightly troubling exchange from 2012 (in fairness, I am not sure that Dagnall was aware of the technical meaning of “sports entertainment”)

the answer, from the more go-ahead factions within the game, would appear to be “yes”, or, more precisely, “so what?” or “who cares?”.

“So what?” is always a hard argument to counter, but I will attempt, in the third (and, I hope) final post in this series, to explain why anyone who genuinely cares about sport (or cares about genuine sports) should care about match-fixing, and why it is incongruous, at best, to put so much effort into rooting out one type of fixing, while enthusiastically embracing another, more insidious, form of it, by re-examining the commonly expressed opinion that “you have to be able to believe that what you are seeing is real”.

 

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2 thoughts on “Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? (Part 2)

  1. Interesting post; performance enhancing substances and the reputations of athletics, cycling not great. Last year the ECB upped its drug testing budget for first class cricket, whether the game has a growing problem or the authorities are simply catching up with it moot (a general background comment on ‘ECB World’ at bythesightscreen.com).

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    • Thanks, Stephen. I think drugs are a slightly different question, but I suspect – with the amount of money that’s now available for simply bowling fast or hitting sixes – the temptation to use performance-enhancing drugs must have increased, and I imagine it’s something we’ll be hearing more about in the future.

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