On March 16 last year, Ireland played Wales at the Principality Stadium in the final match of the season.
The Welsh were playing for the Grand Slam. Ireland had a fighting chance of the Championship. That chance was reliant on Ireland actually putting up a fight. Psychologically, Wales were at a different pitch and Ireland were beaten out the gate.
At 25-0 with the clock in the red, Wales let Jordan Larmour over so that they could celebrate early. It was a demoralising loss – Ireland didn’t land a punch. And so to Wales the spoils – well not all of them.
Sitting in the box beside Warren Gatland that day was his assistant coach Rob Howley. Unbeknownst to anyone, Howley had placed two bets that day on events occurring in the match.
The first bet was on a named Welsh player to score the first try. The second bet was on a named Welsh player to score a try at any stage in the game.
In the modern game a coaching ticket can get a message to its team in seconds. If a scrum is set up in your opponents’ 22, say in the middle of the park, there could be 20 pre-rehearsed moves in the play book. Where are we if the attack coach who has a 10/1 or 20/1 bet on a certain player scoring first?
Even though the call you make may not be the easiest way to get over the line there is no doubt in my mind that if I personally had the ability to control events I would use the call to get the player I had put money on to get over the line in preference to any other call.
A serious conflict of interest! World Rugby’s Regulation 6 in their constitution, anti-corruption and betting, states that the game of Union should be "an honest test of skill" and "public confidence in the authenticity and integrity of the sporting contest is of paramount importance".
The two named players were brought in front of the inquiry and grilled. Both were completely exonerated.
Imagine though a conspiracy where there were several players in on a betting scam. The words 'Honour' and 'Integrity' could never be used again in relation to the game of Rugby Union.
At that time in 2019 it would have been the 100th anniversary of the Chicago White Sox throwing the World Series in 1919. That event was a stain on the sport.
Given what happened back then it is probably worth a look at another scandal in baseball, committed this time by Pete Rose, an outfielder for the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s.
Rose was one of the greatest players of all time and a three-time world champion. Some of his career records are still unbeaten. Rose was a controversial player but got a pass for that and as usual with these types of players his exemption came about as he did his talking on the pitch.
In 1989, however, in his second stint at the Reds as player/manager, Sports Illustrated made allegations that Rose was betting on baseball games – specifically the ones that involved his own team. The world of baseball was aghast… again. A special commission was established and the Dowd Report was later published.
The author John Dowd stated that Rose had bet on 52 games in 1987 alone on the team that he coached and still played for. Dowd concluded that Rose also bet against the Reds – with some bets as high as $10,000 a game in that 1987 period. Rose denied everything up until he published his autobiography ‘My Prison Without Bars’ where he ’fessed up about nearly everything. He had been lying for 15 years.
As a footnote to his career, Rose had surpassed Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record in 1985. He had done so with the assistance of illegally corked bats. When two baseball memorabilia collectors, who bought bats used in games to beat the record at huge prices, X-rayed the bats and found that there was a cork interior, they too had bought into a lie.
Rose was banned from all forms of involvement in the game – forever. There are all sorts or unsavoury characters in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – yet Rose will never darken its doorstep.
Betting on your team for or against is a no-no even in the USA. Even to this day Rose has not "shown a mature understanding of his wrongful behaviour". Whither Howley?
You couldn’t compare Rose to Howley. Rose is simply a bad egg – an unrepentant one at that! When Howley was summoned back to Wales during the World Cup in Japan, there was shock at his actions – yet no universal outpouring of sympathy. I don’t know Howley personally but if you played with him you would support him. If you were coached by him or were a member of the Welsh Rugby public, maybe less so.
There are three relevant elements as we approach the imminent end of his nine-month ban from rugby and recent attempt at rehabilitation through an interview with the ‘Daily Mail’. There are still too many questions to be answered. If the betting companies had not alerted the Welsh Rugby Union to Howley’s activities, would he still be placing bets on Wales?
Howley also states that he lost £4,000 on his bets. It does not matter whether he won £4 million or lost £4 million – money is not the issue here – it is the betrayal of trust. It seems to me that has flown over his head.
In World Rugby’s Anti Corruption and Betting Regulations, it states in article 6.10.4i "that if there were mitigating factors that the judicial committee considers relevant and appropriate" they would take that into consideration.
The death of Howley’s sister in 2011 is indeed a traumatic event but I fail to see the relevance of it when it comes to placing bets in 2019 on a team whose trust in him is absolute. I cannot see that as a mitigating factor – the inquiry obviously did. If you are managing or assisting a national side, your country of birth, your motives and ethics should be beyond reproach.
Nobody can deny Howley’s playing career or his pedigree on the pitch. He was a great player and he commanded huge respect. The man has a family and a career and he needs to get back into the game. He might also need to re-examine what he has said on the record.
The maximum penalty for his breach of trust is a five-year ban. Howley, because of his good character and stellar career, gets off lightly.
If he gets a second chance, and I believe he deserves one, his act of contrition will have to be pretty compelling.