It’s fair to say that recent allegations against an AFL Field Umpire relating to betting outcomes have sent shockwaves throughout the football community. In a troubling turn of events, it was alleged that bets on Brownlow Medal votes were made on over 10 football games that the field umpire is said to have officiated.
Voting on the Brownlow Medal, or any best and fairest award in any sporting code is considered sacrosanct and umpires are taught from day one to protect the integrity of the game. As a former AFL Field Umpire, I can speak of the pressures that go with the job. In social situations, the Brownlow Medal is one of the most common topics I am asked about. An umpire’s responsibilities go beyond making decisions on the field. They include other duties such as giving evidence at tribunal hearings, lodging official paperwork, and of course, casting votes for one of the game’s highest accolades, the Brownlow Medal.
Setting up for a fair game
Naturally, the AFL has protocols in place for educating umpires and procedures for submitting votes. However, the rise of betting and digital betting platforms means there is a greater risk of misconduct. So how can corruption be prevented and how can the integrity of the game be protected? As a risk advisory professional, l would recommend the following additional actions to sporting bodies as the starting point for a fair game, regardless of the sport:
1. Practice makes progress
- Provide ongoing education on all aspects of the gambling landscape. Move beyond an annual presentation at a pre-season training camp and have regular sessions throughout the season.
- Discuss how gambling has become more sophisticated. For example, consider how an answer to a question could be used for illegal activities or how betting agencies monitor trends.
- Review your incident response protocols. Role-play responses to incidents that may arise for umpires and players in daily or professional life.
- Learn from past incidents. Review similar examples in other sports from around the world to identify lessons learned and understand the consequences.
2. Call it out
Looking at the entire list of field umpires, there are likely to be several incidents over the course of a season. Self-reporting shows a proactive approach and alertness, so it should be encouraged, not frowned upon.
- Establish a hotline for umpires, players, and officials to self-report any incidents such as conversations with family or friends that could be misconstrued, unusual activity from people they do not know, or even if they are involved in betting in other forms.
- Provide the possibility to seek anonymous help for those that feel they may have an addiction, being it gambling or an addiction in another area.
3. Step up the voting game
- Voting should be completed electronically, moving away from manual paperwork, and the physical handling of paperwork.
- In situations where voting occurs, officials (field and emergency umpire in the case of AFL) should sign a declaration each time they vote, declaring they will not use the information in any way.
Putting your best foot forward
Ultimately, education and preventative actions need to be continuous and ongoing rather than set and forget. In insurance speak, we call this “risk management” which means reducing the chances of a scandal like this happening again. This is a reminder of the need to stay proactive when it comes to risk management procedures, be it in AFL or any other organisation.
To discuss your sporting body or business risk exposures or risk management procedures, please feel free to reach out at any time.
National Facilities Placement Manager