New Zealand can't escape an approaching 'tsunami' of match-fixing, says expert
New Zealand needs to encourage the Stephen Flemings of the world, and help the Lou Vincents, as it faces an oncoming match-fixing tsunami.
That's the judgment of Declan Hill, an investigative journalist who is an expert in match-fixing and sports corruption.
Both players mentioned are former Black Caps who have had first-hand experience of the dark world of match-fixing.
Vincent ended up being banned from cricket for life for fixing matches in England and India, while Fleming wrote in his 2004 book Balance of Power about how he was told by a fixer in 1999 about the wide-reaching Asian sports gambling syndicates.
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The syndicates held sway over English football and international tennis, he wrote.
Hill said New Zealand needed to prepare for the day the syndicates try to break into the New Zealand market.
"The situation in the sports world today is that you have this tsunami of match-fixing, and therefore I think it would be naive for New Zealand to say 'well, somehow we're genetically predisposed not to have this situation'.
"In no way am I saying this is a situation like Turkey or Italy or Greece; what I am saying is get your defences in now because it is going to come. This is not a phenomenon which will spare New Zealand."
Hill said Fleming's assertions were dismissed by many at the time as being made in promotion of his book, but they should have been taken seriously because they turned out to be true.
In the recent Chris Cairns perjury trial, which featured Vincent and focused on match-fixing claims, now retired Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum had his reputation questioned by the defence team as he testified to being approached by Cairns to fix.
Cairns was found not guilty of the charges.
It does beg the question though, why would any New Zealand athlete want to speak up after seeing what Fleming and McCullum experienced?
Hill said the solution was to have an independent, anonymous anti-corruption hotline for athletes to call and report any approaches or things they thought were wrong.
"No disrespect to any New Zealand sports official, but my impression of New Zealand is it is a pretty small country and if someone phoned up an in-sport thing and said 'I'm a player and I think my coach might be doing stuff, I don't have any evidence but I'm worried', the guy at the other end would go 'is that you, Declan?'
"You want to avoid even the suspicion that that might happen for a young player and make sure it's an independent outside hotline and they can compile a report and figure out if it's nonsense or turn it over to the proper authorities, be it the police, be it Sport New Zealand.
"It doesn't cost all that much money, [so] put it in place and make it easy for the next Stephen Fleming to report these high-level corruption."
The other issue is the Vincent-type player who goes overseas to areas where sports corruption is rife.
That's where education comes in, Hill says. Not to teach ethics, but to increase awareness.
"You have to train them before they go. You've got to have some sort of programme set up for them to prepare them and make them aware that match-fixing is an issue they may face in those countries and how to deal with it."
For those who don't think match-fixers will come to New Zealand, Hill said the country was a prime market due to its reputation for honesty and low levels of corruption.
But such a reputation didn't save the likes of Denmark, Sweden and Canada, where match-fixing arrests had been made, he said.
Globalisation has made New Zealand a more lucrative target for the syndicates. More Asian gamblers want to bet here because they trust the sportspeople more.
"The sports bettors haven't stopped betting on sports, they have just stopped betting on their local leagues because of the corruption and now they're betting on other leagues.
"Most of those guys are betting on Manchester United and the really big leagues, but that globalised sports market is now so large that it's worth putting a percentage of a percentage of a percentage point on the Canadian soccer league.
"So suddenly you'll have a third-tier game being watched by fewer than 200 people in London, Ontario, that's not being gambled on by Canadians, that has $20,000 or $30,000 being wagered in Asia.
"The players are getting less than $200 a game, but suddenly there is $20,000 on the game. That is suddenly worth fixing."
The same would happen in New Zealand, Hill said.