Business or pleasure? Ryan Tandy and the NRL take the fun out of rugby league

Former rugby league player and convicted match-fixer, Ryan Tandy will likely not play the game again, but who’s really to blame? AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

I’m a relatively well-disciplined guy. In my brief time in this world, I’ve managed to complete a degree, quit smoking, and exercise thirty-odd kilos of self-indulgence away.

But if there’s a TV on in the background, I won’t study; if friends keep offering me cigarettes, one day I’ll smoke one; and just ask my roommate what happens if he leaves an open bag of chips lying around.

The point is this – given proximity to temptation for long enough, just about everyone will crack.

The close connection between rugby league and gambling has the same problem, as we saw with former Bulldogs player and recently convicted match-fixer, Ryan Tandy.

Tandy is appealing, but if his conviction stands the National Rugby League (NRL) CEO David Gallop said in a press conference that he will ban him from rugby league for life. I almost expected a cut to TAB Sportsbet’s Glenn Munsie halfway through to let us know what the odds of a life ban were.

To say then that the NRL and betting agencies are bedfellows would be an understatement.

Having a punt on the weekend’s proceedings is beginning to rival actually buying a ticket and going to the match for everyday league fans.

I have friends who will bet on games without bothering to watch them - they just check the results online.

Why? Part of the blame has to go to the game itself: Channel Nine’s commentary team spends an inordinate amount of time talking about odds and margins, and then at half-time, they cut again to Munsie updating the odds so nobody is left out of the loop.

It’s not easy to separate the NRL from gambling anymore.

The means of gambling have expanded too. It’s not just the result of the game, or the first tryscorer; options range from the now infamous first scoring play, to the amount of points in the match, last tryscorer, man of the match, half-time leader, to the hair colour of the player who scores the 11th point.

It’s a far cry from my family’s traditional wager: the last sausage on the BBQ for whoever picks the winner.

The only sure thing is that we’re losing focus on the game of rugby league itself. AAP Image/Sergio Dioniso

I’m not a prude - I have a punt on a game every now and again. Usually for NSW, Australia or my beloved Sea Eagles.

I think it’s a great way to feel like I have a stake in the game. I feel the highs and the lows more, as I watch my $10 turn into $30, or disappear forever - but betting on sports games solely to make money is wrong.

Sport is about competition, it’s about watching men and women struggle for perfection. Watching sport is about appreciating that.

The odd punt can heighten that experience, but the apple has fallen a long way from that tree. Sports betting is big business, and it’s not clear which part now has priority – the sport or the betting.

If the NRL’s damning of Tandy in light of all of this isn’t a case of the pot calling the kettle black, it’s close.

The NRL and rugby league have always had a close association with gambling, and anyone who suggests that it’s only to encourage a heightened experience for spectators needs look no further than the prevalence of pokies in Leagues Clubs - the gambling isn’t about the sport, it’s about the money.

So is there really a great deal of difference between Ryan Tandy fixing a match to make an easy buck, and the NRL jumping in with betting agencies in pursuit of the same?

Tandy’s action was harmful because it undermined the competitiveness of the match, which lies at the very heart of sport, but the growth of betting has undermined what lies at the heart of watching a sporting match: the ability to share in that competition.

The NRL might believe its association with betting agencies is “for the good of the game”, but if it keeps going at this rate, they’re going to forget what was so good about the game in the first place.