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Wrestling with logic

The story about sumo wrestlers admitting to fixing matches (as reported in various papers today, including the Guardian and the Independent) is an interesting one, no?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Japan the beacon of light for those who rail at the gambling industry?

There’s a tote monopoly there, so horseracing loves it on the grounds that, they say (ignoring the plight of the punter and the black market that is created by doing so), it provides more money than other systems do.

And – fairly obviously, therefore – there are no bookies, which surely means (if you follow the logic of those who say that the increase in betting with licensed bookmakers is the cause of more corruption in sport) that there must be no corruption either.

Except, it turns out, there is.

So is there something wrong with a bit of the logic above, or is this just firm evidence that the argument advanced by European opponents to licensed gambling on the grounds of the threat to sport is a load of old cobblers?

Posted in Betting industry, Europe, Regulation.


3 Responses

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  1. markg says

    There’s a section in Freakonomics on corruption in sumo wrestling. To quote wikipedia:

    “One example of the authors’ use of economic theory involves demonstrating the existence of cheating among sumo wrestlers. In a sumo tournament, all wrestlers in the top division compete in 15 matches and face demotion if they do not win at least eight of them. The sumo community is very close-knit, and the wrestlers at the top levels tend to know each other well. The authors looked at the final match, and considered the case of a wrestler with seven wins, seven losses, and one fight to go, fighting against an 8-6 wrestler. Statistically, the 7-7 wrestler should have a slightly below even chance, since the 8-6 wrestler is slightly better. However, the 7-7 wrestler actually wins around 80% of the time. Levitt uses this statistic and other data gleaned from sumo wrestling matches, along with the effect that allegations of corruption have on match results, to conclude that those who already have 8 wins collude with those who are 7-7 and let them win, since they have already secured their position for the following tournament.”

    Given the Guardian states the same reason for the fixing being:

    “It was not clear if police would take action: match-fixing is not illegal, and there is no evidence that bets were placed on the outcome of predetermined bouts. Instead, it appears that wrestlers traded victories and defeats in order to win promotion or avoid demotion.

    Each professional tournament – held six times a year – lasts 15 days; wrestlers aim to end with an 8-7 win-loss record or better to maintain their status in the professional ranks.”

    It seems unlikely that gambling is the incentive for fixing here compared to the need to maintain professional rank. I agree that monopoly-based gambling and black markets are bad for the betting industry/the punter/match fixing as a whole, but I don’t think this particular bit of match fixing adds evidence either way in the argument. This sort of fixing would occur regardless of their state of the betting industry… unless, of course, they find any evidence that it is gambling related, in which case it does weaken the monopoly’s case.

  2. MD says

    Mark –

    Interesting, but that’s precisely the point. I am underlining, as you are, a more regular old bugbear of mine, which is the obsession with the idea that corruption in sport must be gambling related, when it is about financial reward (which, here, presumably goes with professional rank). While, often, the incentive might come from finance from the gambling markets, the idea that it does so solely is bunkum. And even if there is no financial return here, who cares what the incentive is if what you are doing is fixing the outcome? If you fix, you fix.

    When I sat on the government’s Parry panel looking at integrity in sport, I argued this point til I was blue in the face: we should not be limited to worrying about sporting integrity only if a threat to it were deemed to be caused by gambling. Instead we should be seeking to tackle corruption caused by financial gain, howsoever that gain is engineered. As such, the Harlequins bloodgate scandal and the Renault Affair would be seen to be just as relevant to a discussion on corruption in sport as something proven to be gambling related, and there would be recognition that the single largest um of money you can win from a fixed result in sport comes on the final day of the football season. Then, a fixed match which results in survival in the Premiership or secures Champions’ League qualification would be worth upwards of £40million to the club in question.

    I am not suggesting that such games ARE rigged in Britain, but I know plenty of gamblers who suggest that just such arrangements between Chairmen have been made in other European leagues over the years. But we fail completely to look at corruption in sport in the round, because of our obsession with betting. And some people hold up other places without licensed betting operators as paragons of virtue, when the very fact that corruption still takes place there, like today’s story, demonstrates precisely that it is not a betting issue. It is a corruption issue, period. That’s fraud, not betting.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Tweets that mention Sumo wrestlers admit to match-fixing? Surely not in the land of the Tote monopoly! -- Topsy.com linked to this post on February 3, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by josh apiafi, Mark Davies. Mark Davies said: Sumo wrestlers admit to match-fixing? Surely not in the land of the Tote monopoly! http://bit.ly/gnmOiw […]

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