Universal Deviancy and Match-Fixing

Various reviewers – from gambling correspondents to the football player’s union to senior sports lawyers – have called the ‘Insider’s Guide to Match-Fixing’ – a must-read.   It is mostly an academic analysis (for non-academics) into the subject.   Over the next few weeks, I will post small excerpts of the book on the blog to give you a taste of its contents and show you how and why it differs from ‘The Fix’.

Here is a first example which shows why studying match-fixing is extraordinarily important for all criminologists regardless of whether they follow sports.

Universal Deviancy

Aside from corruption studies, football match-fixing is also one of those rare academic beasts in criminology — a universal deviancy.  For non-criminologists this is the equivalent of reporting that I have a found an intellectual Holy Grail.  Universal deviancies are not supposed to happen — but match-fixing is one.  Here is why.

Criminologists rarely talk about “crimes.”  Since the days of the great French thinker Émile Durkheim, they have tended to write rather about “deviancy”. They do this because “what is a crime” changes depending on the society and the historical era. What was criminal for our grandparents is not necessarily criminal for us, and vice versa.

For example, the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is described by his author as a crime-fighting genius.  However, Arthur Conan-Doyle also describes Holmes as a habitual drug-user: but he did not think of his character injecting cocaine or opium as illegal, rather it was a simple, moral defect brought about by Holmes’ boredom with ordinary life.

This was not an unusual view of these substances in 1890s western society.  In fact at that time, one of Coca-Cola’s chief ingredients was derived from the coca leaf which is the raw material for cocaine.  Today, of course, making a drink consisting of cocaine and selling it internationally would make the manufacturer a drug trafficker.  It is for this type of fluctuation in what society regards as a “crime” that criminologists now usually prefer the terms “deviant” or “deviancy”.

Over the years of human history there are very few practices that have, in one society or another, not been regarded as normal and then deviant and then normal again. Drug taking, slavery and various sexual practices (including, in some very rare circumstances, like the royal dynasties of ancient Egypt, incest) have all been regarded in some eras or in some cultures as normal.

One of the few, almost unique, exceptions is match-fixing.

The idea of match-fixing as a universal deviancy is not simply about football in current times. Match-fixing, regardless of the sport, has always been regarded as a deviant behaviour. Even in cultures that accepted traditions that 21st century western humanity largely regards as abhorrent, like slave owning or paedophilia, match-fixing was a deviant behaviour.

For example, according to the ‘Lives of the 12 Caesars’ by Gaius Suetonius, the match-fixing of chariot races in the early Roman Empire by some of the most powerful figures in world history, the Imperial Emperors, was regarded by both Suetonius and, reportedly, the ordinary people as something shameful. In fact, four hundred years after Suetonius, the riots that nearly brought down one of the Byzantine Emperors were caused, initially, by rumours of match-fixing by the popular Green and Blue chariot racing teams.

The question of why so many different societies have regarded the fixing of competitive sporting events as a deviant behaviour is beyond the scope of this particular book, but one theory using George Orwell’s view of sports might be that if sports are “mimic warfare” to fix is to become a traitor.

Traitors, be they motivated for financial gain or changing ideology, are rarely viewed favourably.  The Flavius Josephuses, Benedict Arnolds or Vidkun Quislings may be lucky enough to choose the winning side (or not), but even when they do they usually have to disguise their shift in allegiances in later historical accounts.  Whatever the reasons for the near-universal dislike of fixing, it does mean that match-fixing is an excellent subject to study for criminologists.


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