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Is that Camembert I see?

In his book analyzing the role of conspiracy theory in the shaping of modern history, the award-winning journalist David Aaronovitch lambasts the technique of building arguments “brick by unreliable brick”, and allying the result to “the synthesizing of radically diverse subject matter into the requisite coherent pattern” in order to create a thesis where “absolutely anything is possible, granted first the authors’ desire for it to be possible”.

With a variety of recent examples from the death of Diana to the fall of the Twin Towers, Voodoo Histories demonstrates how for some people, “the absence of complete certainty somehow permit[s] an almost impossible explanation to be regarded as being as being as true, if not truer, than a likely one”, while “the prevalence of an opinion somehow confers a degree of truth upon it.”

You could apply this to all sorts of the debates that I’ve found myself involved with in the gambling industry over the years, but I thought of David Aaronovitch specifically this month when I read the comments of Jean-Luc Moner-Banet, chairman of the European Lotteries Association’s Sports Committee. Alongside some obvious platitudes – “if we don’t protect the integrity of sport there will be no product to sell,” and, “the vast proportion of players do not want sports to be jeopardised” – he stated, when publishing his organisation’s new Sports’ Charter, that “governments need to increase control over exchange betting and in-play products because their existence was a threat to the integrity of sport”.

To cite the historian Sir Lewis Namier, there would be little to say on this subject, were it not for the nonsense that has been talked about it.  The integrity of sport may be threatened by people who play it while seeking to profit in some way from not doing so fairly, but the notion that players on a pitch can alter their behaviour to secure a financial return on in-play betting taking place off it is absurd; and the explanation (given frequently before among these pages) why punters not involved in a sporting contest are unable to impact it in some new way via exchanges have been well-rehearsed for more than a decade.  Both are quickly understood by people without agendas. If M. Moner-Banet had referred to spread betting markets on things like ‘total corners’, he might have had an argument (albeit one easily knocked down, since the only person that loses in that instance is the market-maker). But he didn’t, which demonstrates just how little he gets.

In a way, though, it is less the fact that he is putting the thought out there that I find amazing – notwithstanding that they are the arguments of the novice – but that he does so while quite brazenly accepting that there is no evidence to support the theory he advances. Sufficient for him, apparently, to state that it is “clear” to his members that certain forms of betting bring with them a greater risk to sport, and that his view is supported by “others”.  As the British writer Damian Thompson has observed, “People who share a muddled, careless or deceitful attitude towards gathering evidence often find themselves drawn to each other’s fantasies.”

The Moner-Banet defence might just as easily be used to advance the proposition that the moon is made of cheese. There are, to my knowledge, no academic studies or scientific evidence to support it, but it is clear to me that it is possible, and more to the point, there are others who think it. Google returns 27,600,000 hits on the subject.

Perhaps the EU and space agencies should be taking a closer look?


[The above is my latest article for Gaming Intelligence Quarterly, published last week]


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