No fear of bookies among sports leagues

Any sports fan raised in America is well used to the fear that gambling seems to spark in those who run the major sports leagues. The league presidents seem to shake in terror if there is even a hint of gambling. Violations of the league rules are generally dealt with ruthlessly.

Gambling, not performance enhancing drugs, is considered the most serious threat to a sport's integrity. You only have to look at how Major League Baseball has dealt with Pete Rose and Mark McGwire and their respective scandals to be sure of that. McGwire has been forgiven. Rose hasn't.

In Ireland (& Britain too) gambling is much less feared. Bookies are legal businesses and sports teams and leagues are happy to take bookmakers' sponsorship money. I've grown used to this over the years, but recently I remembered how strange I used to find this when I read that a member of the Dublin-based soccer team Bohemians is waiting to find out if he will be punished for betting on games in his league.

According to the Belfast Telegraph the amounts bet by Gareth McGlynn were "minuscule", but I was instantly reminded of how Major League Baseball suspended retired players Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays for becoming promotional spokesmen for Atlantic City casinos back in the early 1980s. I don't think MLB would tolerate any betting on MLB games, no matter how "minuscule" the amounts.

If you know your baseball history you'll know about the 1919 'Black Sox' scandal and you might figure that experience explains MLB's paranoia about gambling. And there have been some infamous gambling scandals involving football, hockey, the NBA and college basketball. Maybe it's just an American thing.

Yet, such scandals are not unknown over here.

A few years ago Irish rugby star Ronan O'Gara admitted that early in his career he might have gambled "a bit too much" after all sorts of stories about O'Gara's gambling were making the rounds. There was no hint that O'Gara bet on games he played in or any rugby games, but still he was betting and the rumor was it had led O'Gara into financial difficulties.

I'm pretty sure Major League Baseball would have had something to say about that, but nothing much happened here. You might say that O'Gara's situation compares with Michael Jordan's, but O'Gara didn't endure anything like the scrutiny Jordan had to endure. And he was never making Jordan' money either.

The rumors might have caused O'Gara some discomfort, but not too much. He's still regularly seen going in and out of the bookies near my daughter's school.

More worrying are the regular rumors of 'match-fixing.' They seem to crop up regularly and some even involve big names in international soccer. Soccer is regularly associated with match-fixing and gambling syndicates - often in less popular leagues - yet still nothing is done to break the links between gambling and soccer.

Sporting bodies are just much more relaxed about gambling here. I mean, some teams where their bookmaking sponsors' names on their shirts! I doubt even a big conspiracy like the Black Sox would end the cosy relationship between legal bookmaking firms and sports teams and leagues over here.

Actually, I'm more inclined to think that American sports leagues would love to tap into some of that money, but unfortunately for them there are no chains of legal bookmakers' offices around the country.

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