On the eve of the 2007 NAB cup, the big story in the world of AFL is the so called “betting scandal” that 4 players have been caught up in. The named players are Simon Goodwin (Adelaide), Kieran Jack (Sydney), David Hale (North Melbourne) and Daniel Ward (Melbourne). Extensive debate has followed the naming of these players with regards to the severity of any punishment that should be handed out, if in fact they should be punished at all given that none of them bet against their own team.

Goodwin was involved in online betting with AFL associate betting agency Betfair. Given it is illegal under AFL rules for players to bet on the competition they are playing in, he was tipped off to the league by the agency after they discovered thousands of dollars in bets coming from his account (including a winning $2000 bet on eventual premiers West Coast in the 2006 Grand Final). Following this, the AFL asked their other associate agency in the TAB to check for any players within their accounts. The other three were reported to the league after this search. Demon Daniel Ward has revealed that he has a gambling problem and has been undergoing counselling even before the players were named as part of this “scandal”. He had been betting large scale amounts on a consistent basis – notably twice in 2006 on games he was participating in (albeit for Melbourne to win). The other two, Hale and Jack, had both placed a small number of low scale bets on games not involving their own club.

All 4 players have been named and shamed in the media across the country in the past week. Is this ridicule unfair? We would never want to see match fixing plague our sport like it has cricket in recent eras, but in reality, this harmless betting is more out of ignorance of the rules than anything else. The front page of the Sunday Times in Western Australia last week had photos of the four players lined up against a black background on the front of the newspaper. Upon first glance, they looked like mugshots of suspected criminals. The reactions of outrage from Jack’s father and Hale’s mother against the media’s portrayal of their sons has been perfectly justified. They haven’t done anything sinisiter, their actions are more out of stupiditiy than anything else. A slap on the wrists for them to pull their heads in would be suffice. Suggestions of gambling counselling are ridiuclous. As for the other two, counselling services should not be imposed on them either unless they feel they have a problem (as it appears Ward does). Lets face it, these are proffessional footballers we are talking about. They get paid very well and if they want to have a harmless flutter, it really is their business – just as long as they don’t break any of the AFL’s rules it shouldn’t be an issue.

This story is another example of the over-scrutinising of league footballers in the modern era. Betting needs to be stamped out to ensure match fixing never becomes a problem within the AFL, but to punish these four for their harmless acts of sheer stupidity would be a mistake.