Sport and the law in 2019 — a case of back to the future

The influence of law and politics on sport will continue to deepen in 2019. In the first of a two-part series, Jack Anderson looks at some landmark sporting anniversaries that fall this year.

Sport and the law in 2019 — a case of back to the future

The influence of law and politics on sport will continue to deepen in 2019. In the first of a two-part series, Jack Anderson looks at some landmark sporting anniversaries that fall this year.

Match fixing and illegal gambling; political indecision and economic instability; hurling’s continuing appeal and fragility; Irish identity in English life and football; women having to prove themselves eligible to compete in sport are all issues to watch out for in 2019, but which we have, in part, heard plenty about before.

1919: The ban on betting

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the biggest sporting fix of all: Baseball’s 1919 World Series. The Chicago White Sox were favourites against the Cincinnati Reds. Approached by gamblers, who preyed upon the fact that the players were poorly paid by a miserly owner, eight of the White Sox agreed to throw the Series. Subsequent newspaper investigations, combined with the guilty conscience of some involved, led to the conspiracy being uncovered.

A criminal trial followed and, though the players were acquitted, life bans from the sport followed.

The ‘Black Sox’ World Series of 1919 gave sport one of its immutable and probably apocryphal quotes, the plaintive cry of a boy on the steps of court to his hero, the White Sox’s Shoeless Joe Jackson: “Say it ain’t so Joe.”

The way the conspiracy was arranged, with bets of small amounts made and laid around the country; the inadequacy of the laws used to prosecute the accused; and the way baseball reacted to protect its integrity by banning all players from ever “betting on the ball game”, are not just part of America’s sporting past, they are now part of its future, because in 2018 the US Supreme Court allowed all states to licence gambling.

A key issue in 2019 will be how the various US states and major sports leagues regulate the gambling industry (if at all) and where the estimated $150bn of illegal gambling previously carried out yearly in the US (a large percentage of which is likely to be money laundering for the mafia) will now go.

It’s odds on that some sporting events in the US will be fixed in 2019.

1929: Coping with the crash

Brexit looms across sport in the UK, Ireland and the EU in 2019. The economic instability that is likely to follow will no doubt affect sport. Ninety years ago, the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 and the following Great Depression almost brought the US to its knees. Money for food on the table and not a spot on the bleachers was the priority for most US families, and professional sport duly suffered.

What is interesting about US sport in the 1930s was that, as gate receipts declined, professional sport had to look to other revenue streams, as it does today and as it will have to post-Brexit.

Most notably, sport in the US in the 1930s embraced new technologies, such as radio: If the crowds would not go to the game, it could be brought to them (as could more advertising). In 2019, expect streaming services, rather than traditional TV broadcasters, to become major commercial players in sport.

In the year after the Wall Street Crash, baseball, inspired by Coca Cola’s deal with the International Olympic Committee for the 1928 Olympics, became the first major individual sport to enter an official corporate sponsorship arrangement, doing a deal with the Ford Motor Company.

Commercial imperatives aside, in the political and economic instability that followed the 1929 crash, sport also did what it does best, distracting and entertaining us, at least for a while. Sport in the 1930s was a decade of great rivalries: Lou Gehrig v Babe Ruth, Joe Louis v Max Schmeling and Seabiscuit vs War Admiral. Post-Brexit Britain will need the rivalries of the back pages (Klopp v Guardiola, Eddie Jones vs the rest of the rugby world etc) to entertain and distract it, in part, from the sad pantomime of May vs Corbyn.

When the US began to recover from the Wall Street Crash, thanks mainly to FDR’s New Deal, an underplayed aspect of that federal government programme was the millions invested into building local sports facilities across the US. Americans might not yet have been able to afford to attend professional sport, but FDR wanted to make sure that it would cost them less to participate in recreational sport. This aspect of the New Deal had a lasting legacy on sports participation and public health in the US well into the 1960s. Build it and they would come and play.

1929 was also the year when FIFA began sending out invitations to member associations to participate in the first World Cup, to be held in Uruguay in 1930.

The English FA declined to participate, having ‘Brexit-ed’ from FIFA two years previously. The leading FA administrator of the time, Charles Sutcliffe, declared: “I don’t care a brass farthing about the improvement of the game in France, Belgium, Austria or Germany. The FIFA does not appeal to me. An organisation where such football associations as those of Uruguay and Paraguay, Brazil and Egypt, Bohemia and Pan Russia, are co-equal with [the home nations] seems to be a case of magnifying the midgets.”

If Sutcliffe was around today he would, no doubt, be a Brexiteer and be appalled that footballers from many of the countries mentioned now ply their trade in the Premier League. In a lesson for Brexiteers, Sutcliffe and the FA’s insularity did English football little good. At their first World Cup in 1950, they failed to qualify from their group, Billy Wright, Tom Finney, et al managing to lose to the USA along the way.

1939: A hurling storm

As WWII began, one of the most iconic of All-Ireland hurling finals took place between Kilkenny and Cork, which, to quote former Taoiseach Jack Lynch, Kilkenny won by ‘the usual point’. Media reporting on the “Thunder and Lightning” Final, as it became known, was an influential moment in the promotion of hurling as a mass spectator sport.

Last year will likely be remembered as an iconic hurling championship, one of the most competitive ever, but for large parts of the country hurling remains, as it was in 1939, a spectator sport only. Whatever about promoting hurling and camogie nationwide, protecting these sports in the pockets of the country north of the Galway to Dublin railway line where they remain alive (Belfast, the Glens of Antrim, on the Ards peninsula etc) should be a priority for the GAA in 2019.

1949: Beating the neighbours

This year is the 70th anniversary of the official, descriptive name of our state becoming the Republic of Ireland. 1949 was also the year of one of Irish soccer’s greatest triumphs – a 2-0 defeat of England in Goodison Park on September 21. This meant that our freshly-minted Republic became the first foreign team to beat England on home soil.

In the decade that followed that victory, thousands of Irish left to make a life in England. Their offspring and their grandchildren continue to backbone Irish football teams and management. In 2019, we await Declan Rice’s decision on whether to declare for us or England. While the matter of Irish identity in England is complex and nuanced, FIFA’s regulations are decidedly clear-cut: Until Rice plays a senior qualifying game for us, he can switch allegiance to the land of his birth.

Scheduled to kick off in the final hours before Brexit, we remain unsure as to whether Rice will be available to Mick McCarthy in March for our first Euro 2020 qualifier against Gibraltar, another rock with a complex, post-Brexit border with the EU.

1959: Gender breakthrough

This year brings the 60th anniversary of the first woman officially completing a marathon in the United States. In 1959, Arlene Pieper finished the Pikes Peaks marathon in Colorado. The race was a mountain summit/ascent race over a 13-mile trail to the top and back, which Pieper completed in nine hours.

Controversy over women’s eligibility to compete in marathons has historically centred on the Boston marathon, which became the first road marathon to allow women to compete in 1972. In 1967 Katherine Switzer had famously entered and registered for the Boston marathon using her initials KV Switzer. In legal effect, Switzer had to use her initials to hide her gender.

Gender, eligibility and athletics will be a matter of debate for sport’s supreme court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in 2019. South Africa’s Caster Semenya, the multiple world and Olympic middle-distance champion, has appealed against regulations made by the sport’s governing body, the IAAF, relating to female classification and in particular intersex athletes.

Next week, we’ll cover events from the second half of the past century and their implications for the future.

- Jack Anderson is professor of law at the University of Melbourne.

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