A sign of the times

Is the ball-tampering crisis:

(a) A sign of our national obsessions with sport, trivia and scandals at the expense of more important issues;
(b) A symbol of the socially corrosive and corrupting effects of neoliberalism;
(c) The End of Western Civilization As We Know It

Vote below

Sports betting and corruption

One of the sadder stories last week was that of Wayne Shaw, an English footballer who was forced to resign for eating a pie mid-match, knowing that a bookmaker had laid odds against this. Apart from the absurdity of the case, there’s an obvious problem pointed out by someone I read on Facebook. Once he became aware of the bet, he would have been just as guilty or innocent if he’d chosen not to eat anything, and thereby help the bookies instead of the punters.

More generally, I find it impossible to imagine that sports betting isn’t causing widespread corruption. Take the popular bet on who will score the first try in a match. Suppose Player X, who knows his friends have bet heavily on him, has the choice between going for the try himself, or passing to a team-mate in an arguably better field position. The problem is obvious.

Less obvious is the case of Player Y, whose friends have bet on X. He can choose to pass left, towards X, or right, in which case Z has a chance to score. Such decisions must be made all the time, and it’s far from obvious which is the right one. So, going for the try yourself or making the play that helps your friends is nothing like throwing the game (the only profitable way to cheat in the days before these exotic bets). And, unlike match fixing, it seems to be just about impossible to prove wrongdoing.

I don’t have a solution, except to steer clear of contests where betting is a big deal. I do, however, have a hot tip for those who follow age group triathlon and can find a betting market. Unless I’m in a team, bet against me in the 60-64M category, at just about any odds you can get.

Update That’s the best individual response. The policy response, I think, is to legalise and encourage welching. That is, refuse to enforce gambling debts through the legal system and apply strict liability to attempts at collection through strong arm tactics, with a presumption of guilt against the creditor even if they can’t be tied directly to the enforcer.

A policy lesson from G20

After spending months warning us of terrorists, rioters, and (most fearsome of all) thousands of political minders roaming the streets of the Brisbane CBD, warning us to reconsider our need to travel and giving us a long weekend, Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk is upset with us for taking off to the beach or staying home and waiting the whole thing out. He has been roundly mocked. It’s now clear enough that, except for high-end hotels and restaurants, G20 is going to be an economic disaster for Brisbane.

There is a broader lesson here. Paying substantial amounts to attract an event where the audience is mostly going to regard the venue as interchangeable with lots of others (car races being a prime example) is almost never going to be a sensible economic policy. The inflow of event visitors will mostly be offset by the deterrence of other potential visitors and by an exodus of locals. And the idea that events like this “put Brisbane on the map” is silly.

We won’t be lining up for another international summit any time soon, but the Commonwealth Games will be in the Gold Coast in 2018. I’m confident that an analysis after the fact will reveal very little to show for the $2 billion we are spending on them.

I’ll qualify the above by saying that it’s a different story with mass participation events. Noosa Triathlon for example, attracted 14 000 participants and 50 000 spectators (mostly family members, I think). The local tourism council tipped in $250k. Assuming a similar amount from Tourism Queensland, that’s a subsidy of $10/head. The event could probably have gone ahead without any subsidy: the main contribution for this kind of event is organizing road closures and crowd safety.

MS Swimathon Appeal

I’m doing another of my fundraisers, this time for Multiple Sclerosis. I’m in a team of six people who will do a 12 hour swim relay in a couple of weeks. So, I get to swim two hours, which I’ve never done before. I’m a bit worried about foot cramps, which tend to be the biggest constraint on my swimming (apart from my appalling technique). But, if that happens, I’ll do the two hours in separate stages. So, you can be fairly sure of getting your money’s worth.

As an added inducement, anyone who donates at least $20 gets to vote on the “Tony Abbott question”. Should I post a pic in budgie-smugglers after the event. Feel free to debate, but only those who donate get a say, just like in real life politics.

Form letter, with details, over the fold

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Can you run an ironman and run a country?

I’m not generally a fan of political scandals: at worst, they are spurious, at best, they involve random exposure and punishment of misdeeds that usually go unchecked. But there’s one big exception for me, and that’s when political scandals intersect my sporting interests.

Last year, the high-profile case was that of Republican VP nominee, Paul Ryan, who claimed to have run marathons in his younger days, with times in the 2:50s, an impressive achievement at any age. It turned out that he had run a single marathon, in 4:01:25. As all runners know, no one who has put the effort to run a marathon makes that kind of mistake. Ryan’s time is better than either of mine (4:37 and 4:24), but I’m aiming to break four hours in the next year or two, and I have a good few decades on him.

Now there’s Tony Abbott, who seems to have claimed expenses for everything from weddings to music festivals. But the only one that really interests me is the $2100 he claimed when he went in the 2011 Port Macquarie Ironman. I couldn’t find a time for 2011, but he did the 2010 event (3.8 km swim, 180 km cycle 42.2 k run) in 14 hours, whereas I took 8 hours to do half as much in the Cairns 70.3 in June.

What strikes me about this is not so only the expenses issue (although that obviously irks me) as the training time that must be involved, and the implications for the rest of Abbott’s commitments. Preparing for a marathon or a 70.3 while working full time, even in a flexible job like mine, requires putting most other things, like social engagements, on hold. If he’s training for a full ironman and managing the commitments inherent in being a politician, it’s hard to believe he can have any significant amount of time free to study policy issues and consider the best responses (as I know, you can’t think about these things while you’re running an endurance event – there’s not enough blood flow to the brain to think about much more than keeping your legs moving).

Looking at Abbott’s actual approach to policy, the three-word slogan approach is unsurprising. He can’t have had the spare time or energy for anything better. That worked fine in Opposition, but it hasn’t been great preparation for government.

Everyone's a winner

I was way behind the rest of the Interworld in catching up with the Eden Hazard ballboy kicking, but coming late has its advantages. As is presumably well known to followers of this particular competition, but not to others, the “ballboy” is a minor match official whose job it is to return the ball when it goes out of play. Traditionally, this was done by actual boys, aged in their early teens, who volunteered to help out in this way – giving out this coveted job being a minor perk for the senior officials of the club. Naturally, they were supporters of the home team, but this was unimportant.

But, now, it seems, the typical “ballboy” is a young man, under instructions to make life easy for the home side and difficult for the visitors. This is a new twist on the standard practice of grimy visitors’ dressing rooms with unreliable hot water and so on. All of this helps to create a home ground advantage.

This raises some interesting points about the business of sport.
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