Climbing the Rigging: The 10 most infamous fixes and scandals in sports betting

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All of us avid sportsbetters have made our bets on a match and then cried foul or claimed a fix when our best laid plans go to pot when it hits the fan. But before you start claiming that the Patriots are cheating again, let’s examine some of the blackest, most bitter and most blatant fixes in the history of sportsbetting.

1. 2008 Davydenko Scandal (Russian Tennis)

From 2008-2016 Nikolay Davydenko, professional Russian tennis player, was embroiled in allegations that he had fixed a match against Martin Vassallo Arguello in 2007 in Poland. Initially in 2008 the allegation were cleared but later investigations in 2016 discovered several millions of dollars being bet on the match from Russian accounts. Investigators from both Buzzfeed and the BBC found over 80 incidents of SMS communication between Davydenko and someone who was suspected to be the head of an Italian sports betting syndicate. At that point, Davydenko had long since retired and the case had been shelved.

2. 1919 Black Sox Scandal (American Baseball)

Arguably the most famous incident on this list was the infamous MLB match fixing incident where eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of wilfully losing to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. They were bribed by Arnold Rothstein, a racketeer, businessman, gambler, and the kingpin of New York City’s Jewish Mob. The fallout of the affair was so great that Judge Landis was appointed Commissioner of Baseball and not only banned all eight men from professional baseball, but from any post-career honours such as induction into the Hall of Fame, despite acquittals in a 1921 public trial. The White Sox lost its best players permanently and would never win another American championship until 1959 after 40 years, nor another World Series until 2005. This losing streak is said to be the Curse of the Black Sox, with the White Sox’s purity having been soiled. The 1919 World Series fix and its orchestrator Rothstein are heavily referenced in pop culture ranging from The Great Gatsby and The Godfather Part II to an account of the whole affair, Eight Men Out.

3. 2000 Hansie Cronje Scandal

South African cricketer Hansie Cronje was one of the biggest cricket stars in South Africa and a fan favourite, but it was revealed in 2000 that he was heavily involved in the infamous fixing of matches when the South African cricket team visited India. Tapes of Cronje communicating with a representative of the betting syndicate fixing the match were released by Delhi police, which also implicated other players. Cronje continued to deny everything but some reports indicate that he confessed everything in the eventual trial which suspended him from the sport for life. His death in a plane crash in 2002 is subject of many conspiracy theories due to how many details about the crash remain unreleased and hidden. Several other implicated players in the scandal were also suspended for life.

4. 1982 West Germany vs Austria Fix

The 1982 World Cup in Spain saw a huge fixing scandal. West Germany vs Austria was the final match of the group stage to determine who would advance to the next stage. West Germany lost against Algeria and needed to win against Austria to advance, meanwhile Algeria had won their game against Chile. If Germany won against Austria 1-0, they knew that Algeria would be knocked out of the competition and Germany and Austria would advance from the group stages. As a result, West Germany scored their first goal very quickly and play slowed down until it was almost as if both teams had stopped playing, as they both knew that they would advance no matter what. Despite official protest by the Algerian Football Association, no charges were levied against either team despite the match clearly being fixes to eliminate them.

5. 1946 Bears/Giants NFL Fix

There was a widely recorded attempt made to fix the 1946 NFL Championship Game between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants in favour of the Bears. Giants quarterback Frank Filchock and fullback Merle Hapes were suspended indefinitely from American Football in American leagues for consorting with gamblers, on account of being bribed by Alvin J. Paris to deliberately lose the game and secure the win for the Bears. The trial held up even after appeal in 1948. The game ended 24-14 in favour of the Bears.

6. 2013 Nigerian Football league fix

One of the most blatant examples of rigged matches in history. Two teams in the Nigerian Football League fought for promotion to a higher division, Plateau United Feeders and Police Machine. Plateau United needed to boost goal difference to secure the promotion and in a match with Akurba FC they scored 72 goals to nil in the second half. There was no doubt as to the league’s fixed nature at this point. Police Machine participated in a similar game, scoring 61 goals in the 2nd half against Babayaro FC in an attempt to boost their own goal difference. With these two games clearly being fixed, the NFF suspended all four teams and all officials involved in the two matches. Given the absurd scores in these matches, I doubt anybody would have questioned the validity of these measures.

7. 2010 Pakistani National Cricket Team Fix

More recently than many incidents on this list, in 2010 the Pakistani National Cricket Team were revealed to have been involved in fixing matches. Three players, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were all exposed to have been communicating with the betting syndicate and bookmaking agent Mazhar Majeed, in an attempt to fix the Test Cricket Match between Pakistan and England in 2010. All three players were banned for life and given jail sentences.

8. 2008 Piquet/Alonso Scandal

An event that became one of the biggest fixing scandals in the history of Formula One, which dealt critical damage to Renault’s F1 team and caused a re-evaluation of team ordering throughout the sport. Nelson Piquet Jr., a Renault F1 driver, revealed in 2009 that in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix he was ordered by the team’s officials to crash his car intentionally to give Alonso an advantage in the race, who was competing for first place. Piquet Jr. admitted to crashing the car intentionally and Renault levied a lawsuit against him and his family. The ruling was in Piquet Jr’s favour as the fix was obvious. Renault were banned from F1 for two years and many officials received lifetime bans, although many were later repealed. It caused a massive drop in Renault’s funding, sponsorship and respect in the sport.

9. 1913 Arthur Pelkey Scandal

A famous scandal in 1913, reigning World White Heavyweight Champion boxer Arthur Pelkey revealed that he wilfully participated in a fixed match in March 1913 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada against Luther McCarty, which ended with McCarty’s death in the ring. Pelkey claimed that the fix was directed by his manager Tommy Burns, and that while the coroner investigated McCarty’s in ring death, Burns forced Pelkey to sign over 50% of his earnings while he was in police custody. The death was ruled unrelated to the match and Pelkey was acquitted of any suspicion, continuing his career with Burns as his manager but this incident remains one of the earliest recordings of a match fixing in boxing, and indeed in sportsbetting in general.

10. 1964 Great British Football Betting Scandal

The 1964 Great British Football Betting Scandal was one of the greatest scandals in the sport’s history, ending with ten professional players being jailed for match fixing. It involved a wide ranging match fixing syndicate established by former Scottish international youth football player Jimmy Gauld, who had also played for Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle, St Johnstone and Mansfield Town. Numerous incidents followed, involving many players in what became a highly documented scandal. Gauld fixed matches between Lincoln City vs Brentford FC, Oldham Atheltic vs York City, Hartlepools United vs Exeter City and Bradford Park Avenue vs Bristol Rovers. The media caught on and Gauld sold his story to the Sunday People newspaper. The whole affair concluded in the prosecution of 33 players and the imprisonment of Gauld for four years. This scandal was so high profile it was dramatized in the BBC’s 1997 film The Fix.

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