Just days before the Indian Premier League (IPL) season came to a premature end, the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) Anti-Corruption Unit, during a match between Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi, nabbed two individuals for allegedly pitch-siding, or court-siding.
One of the accused posed as a member of the housekeeping staff and the other a health worker, both had approved accreditation and were reportedly hired by bookies to pass on match information via mobile phone.
Though pitch-siding doesn’t necessarily count as ‘match fixing’ as none of the action is rigged, it is a side-effect of competitive betting that sports organisers have been aiming to quell.
What is pitch or court-siding?
It is having somebody inside a sports venue and passing on immediate match-related updates to a bookie, who can use that information to change the odds and accept or reject bets. The few seconds of lag it takes to be aired on television gives them the window of opportunity.
How does it work?
There is a delay in live broadcast of a match being aired on television or updated on an online platform. The delay can be anywhere around 10 seconds to a few minutes. Therefore a person watching live from inside the venue sees the actual action in real time. The pitch or court-sider then relays that information immediately to a bookie.
For example, if a delivery results in a boundary and there is a 20-second lag on television, a pitch-sider will inform the bookie about the boundary. The bookie can then accept bets claiming anything that isn’t a boundary (dot ball, wide, wicket, etc), and reject bets that would have got it correct. Therefore the bookie will not have to pay the person making the accurate bet since the bet was never registered.
In a 2015 article, the BBC quoted Steve High, the CEO of Sporting Data limited, a company whose website describes it as a firm “offering a wide range of products and consultancy services for the online gaming and wagering sector.”
High said, “we had an automated system whereby the point data would come in and then we would cancel any bets that we had in the market that we deemed were at the wrong price. And then we would place bets straight back into the market that we deemed were now the correct price.”
High added that there were around 75 court-siders placed along Centre Court at the 2013 Wimbledon finals.
Since it is not directly match fixing, is it illegal?
Not in all countries. According to OnlineBetting.Org.UK, court-siding is not illegal in the UK, nor in New Zealand. However tickets to most sporting events have it mentioned that it is illegal in the ‘terms and conditions’ section. Therefore an individual caught has breached a condition of entry at the venue and can be evicted and banned.
In India, betting is banned, therefore, any act of pitch-siding would be considered illegal.
How do pitch-siders send their messages?
At the 2014 Australian Open, a 22-year-old British man Daniel Dobson became the first court-sider to be caught. He had a device stitched onto the inside of his pants, which was connected to his mobile phone. Based on who won the point in a rally, Dobson would press a specific button and the information would reach the Sporting Data, his alleged employers, in the UK in milliseconds.
“You would sit on court for as long as you needed pressing the buttons, which were sewn into my trousers and relay scores back to London,” Dobson said to BBC. “You’d press one for (Novak) Djokovic, two for (Andy) Murray, for example, as fast as you could.”
According to OnlineBetting.Org.Uk, “it’s been known for people to wear headsets underneath wigs that allow them to communicate with people at the other end of a telephone but with the headpiece hidden from view.”
Is it only bookies that use court-siding to their advantage?
No, there have been cases where punters place their own bets from inside a venue – secretly, since court-siding is among the ‘illegal’ activities mentioned on the back of tickets.
The BBC had produced a show called “Can You Beat The Bookies?”
It featured a Sussex resident named ‘Joe,’ who would travel the world to watch tennis matches and place bets instantly. In tennis, each point is registered once the chair umpire logs it onto the electronic device they have with them. Once the point result is placed on the device, it is transmitted to online live score platforms. What Joe would do was travel to generally remote tournaments, which have little or no live streaming options, and sit in for matches where the chair umpire is generally slow at handling the scoring device. It would give him enough time to place his bet and make money.
In one particular match in Romania, the chair umpire had managed to lock himself out of the device, and would need to enter a pin before each and every point. It gave Joe plenty of time to place his bets.
He claimed he earned over GBP 300,000 through bets in 2018 alone.
Are organisers trying to curb court-siding?
Yes. The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) sends a security team to monitor crowds at stadia during ATP Tour matches, and sometimes even at Challenger events. Their task is to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, a fan excessively using a mobile phone and/or laptop, for example, during a match. The team then investigates the situation and may ban the accused from attending future tennis events.
Last year, the TIU found unranked Spanish player Gerard Joseph Platero Rodriguez guilty of court-siding at a Futures event in Pittsburgh in July 2019. He was banned for four years and fined USD 15,000.
The TIU also found former World No.440 Ukrainian player Stanislav Poplavskyy guilty of court-siding at multiple matches between 2015 and 2019. On December 1, 2020, he was issued a fine of USD 10,000 and a lifetime ban from competing in professional tennis.
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