Sport

So, why do players fix? A sports psychologist’s view

By Ant Sims 16 May 2013

Three IPL players were arrested on allegations of spot-fixing on Thursday and, if the allegations are true, one of the most nagging questions will be ‘why’? Why would somebody deliberately risk their reputation and compromise their craft? ANT SIMS spoke to sports psychologist Greg Wilmot to get some insight.

It’s not possible to reduce such a complex behaviour to one simple reason, but one can take a stab at understanding some of the processes behind fixing.

In the past, predictably, some have mentioned that money is a key motivator. When three of Pakistan’s players were found out for deliberately bowling no balls in 2011, the immediate go-to point was money. According to some, Pakistani players just don’t get paid as well as their compatriots from other counties.

Mohammed Aamer, one of the three players convicted of spot fixing, has, however, repeatedly said that his motivation was not the money. He mentioned feeling threatened and marginalised and that he simply didn’t have a choice. He never quite elaborated on his feelings and the threats, but one can assume that his sole motivation wasn’t the cash.

And on Thursday, the news broke of three IPL players being arrested for their alleged involvement in spot fixing. When players in one of the most lucrative leagues in the world, allegedly, start to fix – well, then money isn’t a factor.

Part of the attraction of sport is the thrill of it all. The adulation of the screaming fans and knowing that millions adore you becomes an intricate part of the motivation for playing.   Greg Wilmot, a sports psychologist at Health & Sport Inc, believes that the thrill of it could very well be compared to the addiction suffered by gamblers.

“Many players quite enjoy the pressure ‘high’ or thrill of a big match – whether IPL, T20 or ODI. The thrill of the run chase, the duel between batsman and bowler with a cheering crowd of thousands (with more on TV) make for a powerful sporting ‘aphrodisiac’ that could well be addictive,” Wilmot explained to The Daily Maverick.

“A direct comparison would be how people get addicted to gambling; whether online (taking an opponent’s money) or in casinos (with the bells/ whistles/ thrills) – each subsequent high is great but doesn’t satiate the lust for a greater, longer or more powerful high that spirals and spirals leading to greater risks,” he adds.

Hansie Cronje, the former South African captain, is another known fixer who admitted to “forecasting results” in 2000. He was banned from the game for life after being found guilty by a King Commission enquiry, and Wilmot believes that boredom might affect the players who have “been there, done that”.

In Cronje’s case, one could then speculate that the thrill or the power that came with the sport played a part in his motivation, not only to play the game, but perhaps also to manipulate results.

“Based on speculation, when I look at Hansie’s profile (‘the devil made me do it’) there is something about temptation, greed and excitement without the consideration of the consequences.

“Hansie had seen and done it all (other than the Cricket World Cup) and he relished death-bowling. He was the master of the final over slog-sweep to victory. The pressure of scoring the winning runs or taking the final wickets under pressure isn’t too much of a stretch from trying to manipulate the variables of an individual’s or team’s performance to fit a pre-planned pattern of bowling or lose of wicket at a certain interval,” Wilmot says.

What makes it hard to pin point the exact reason for “fixing” (in whatever form) is that there is no profile for a gambler and there is very rarely a specific modus operandi, even though fixers would be classed as criminal. Because of the lack of insight into fixing, it is extremely difficult to “spot” potential fixers.

The fixing behaviour has the potential to spiral into an addiction, and at that stage, the complexities become even more intricate.

“Addictions are classically defined as a psychiatric ‘illness’. That said, one can still have a genetic or personality-based proclivity but never become addicted – there is a myriad of variables at play,” Wilmot says.

Addiction to seeking that thrill is one possible reason, especially for those who do not care for or need the money, that players might stray.

“I’m putting my neck on the line a bit here, [but] I would argue there is a ‘thrills’ aspect to fixing and perhaps personalities that are quite manipulative.

“Playing elite level sport is highly gratifying, but some might enjoy the pressure of these performances a little too much. Some might start looking to replicate or manufacture pressure situations – kind of like thrill seeking extreme sportsmen (defined as ‘deviant’) such as skydivers, BMXers and so on.

“They might be looking to stretch their sport for a greater and greater thrill. After playing elite high-pressure sport, mundane games might need something of a thrill to pique interest and to get the adrenalin flowing again,” he concludes. DM

Photo: Demonstrators burn a poster of former India test bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth during a protest in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad May 16, 2013. (REUTERS)

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