The bugging of the All Blacks team room ahead of the first Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney last week is a continuation of a “long and ignoble tradition”, according to one of the foremost authorities on sports corruption.Declan Hill, an academic and investigative journalist, told the New Zealand Herald that the planting of listening devices in team hotels was common and even endemic in some parts of the world.
“‘In China, visiting sports officials and athletes should just assume it is happening rather than the other way.”
The only element of surprise in the story, Hill said, was that it occurred in Australia and that it appeared it was now happening in rugby, the “game of savages played by gentlemen”.
According to a Herald report, the plant was a sophisticated, professional job, placed in the cushioning of a seat in the team room. The device was ‘live’ and would have picked up information from at least one team meeting.
It was only discovered when All Blacks’ management requested a sweep of the room by their security detail.
Hill said the device was most probably planted by big players in the gambling market. “What you’re after is 100 per cent certainty. That’s the holy grail of the gambling market,” Hill said.
“Knowledge is power. If you know who the starting 15 is, for example, before anybody else does, that’s a huge advantage and makes the investment of the device well worth it.”
If a syndicate head or bookmaker can can say to their clients that they know with certainty who will be playing for the All Blacks and their forecast turns out to be right, that indicates they have access to inside information nobody else does and enhances their standing and influence.
Australian sport has shown itself to be vulnerable to accusations of corruption in recent times.
There was the Asada scandal that rocked the Essendon AFL club and widespread rumours of match-fixing in the NRL. The relationship between some players and big figures in the gambling industry has also come under the microscope.
It is for this reason that Hill said it was vital that rugby administrators do not try to paint this as a one-off and, for want of a better term, sweep it under the carpet.
There have already been strange pronouncements from administrators who, admittedly, were probably caught on the hop by the news.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver seemed more concerned that the story broke on match day than he was by the incident itself.
“The world of sport is divided and dividing further,” he said. “The ones that take their credibility very seriously and make strong public pronouncements on it will survive.
“The ones that bury their heads in the sand are dying.”
Hill cited once popular soccer leagues in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe that have plummeted in the public eye because nobody can trust what is happening on the field isn’t ultimately controlled by organised crime off the field.
In Australia, where there was such a competitive sports market for relatively few eyeballs, it was even more important to get out in front of the cheats and stay there.
“Rugby administrators have got to get on top of this,” Hill said.
There’s too much at stake if they don’t.
From an article in the New Zealand Herald