Saturday June 28 2014

World Cup: Suarez’s bites and gambling must be checked

By David F. K. Mpanga

I enjoy watching a good game of football although I would not categorise myself as being a fanatic. I am certainly not as passionate or knowledgeable about football as I am about Formula 1. But there is something about the World Cup that makes even the lukewarm supporters keen. This year, I have been catching as many of the live matches as I can, time permitting, as well as looking out for the highlights for those matches that I might have missed. Unfortunately, I missed the Uruguay versus Italy game and have not seen any highlights of the match itself. But I have been bombarded with replays, stories and opinion pieces on Luis Suarez’s latest biting incident.

This is the third time that Suarez has bitten a fellow football player on the pitch. I gather Fifa has suspended him for just nine international matches, banned him for four months and given him a fine that is less than half of his week’s wages. This despite the fact that Suarez deliberately bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini and then tried to pretend that he had accidentally run into the latter’s shoulder and hurt his own teeth. He was violent and he lied to cover up his violent conduct.

But the apparent lenience of the punishment for an egregious repeat offender aside, could there be more to this incident than meets the eye? I read that online bookmakers were taking bets on whether Suarez would bite another player during the 2014 Fifa World Cup and apparently more than 100 punters in Norway placed bets on this event and won a tidy sum. Just why would somebody place money on something as bizarre as that?

Sports betting is a multi-billion US Dollar industry, whose light side provides entertainment and boosts economies by providing jobs and sponsorship for sports and sports infrastructure. However, its dark side destroys people and society by encouraging problem or addictive gambling amongst the poorest of the poor and driving the corrupt rigging of sports. I would not be surprised in the slightest if it turns out that Suarez’s bite was induced not by feral hormones coursing through his veins but rather by a corrupt cash inducement funded by illegal global betting syndicates.

Sadly, mass sports betting has also come to our country. This year, government has introduced a 15 per cent withholding tax on betting winnings and all betting shops have been designated as withholding agents. This tax, which came just in time for the World Cup, is expected to raise Shs8 billion, which is good if you focus only on the need for increased government revenue. But shouldn’t there be some analysis of the negative social impact that sports betting can have?

Every downtown urban mall and suburban shopping centre now has several garishly branded sports betting shops enticing young unemployed or under employed men to bet their meagre earnings on sports events. Sports betting shops stand close to schools and many do not turn away even obviously underage punters. The business is unregulated and there is no objective measure of the fairness of odds offered to the punters. There is no monitoring of the punters and no warning or counselling for people who slide into gambling addiction.

The negative social effects are clear for all to see. Productivity is killed as able-bodied young men choose to while their time away gambling instead of looking for and enga ging in actual work. Families go hungry because breadwinners spend every last cent on bets. Students drop out of school because of the temptation to “rinse” their school fees through a betting shop. Employees embezzle their employers’ money in the never ending thirst for a win at the betting shops.

Like Suarez’s bad behaviour, the effects of gambling are well known so let us not just sit back and count the tax revenue when they are going to come back and bite us.
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