The arrest of a pitch referee for allegedly passing on voting information for the 2022 Brownlow Medal represents the most serious betting scandal to have engulfed the AFL since the code became commercially linked to the gambling industry. Paris.
Some allegations involving referee Michael Pell are relatively straightforward. Others are murky and have yet to be detailed by the police or the AFL.
As field referee, Pell was required to keep Brownlow’s vote secret, under referee’s omerta, for a host of reasons. The risks to the integrity of the coin are considerable and potential bet leaks have been around for a long time.
Because the Brownlow medal is a rare sporting competition – an individual reward shrouded in secrecy – in which it is possible to bet on the result after the race was run and won.
Thus, there is more potential for scheming if a referee is corrupt, or even just cowardly with the company they keep and what they say; an offhand comment on possible votes could trigger bets.
Previous AFL betting scandals have been largely player-centric, such as those involving Collingwood’s Heath Shaw and Jaidyn Stephenson (2011 and 2019 respectively), or relatively minor betting violations by officials, such as the former Essendon official, Dean Wallis. Stephenson was seen as the most serious, given that he received a 10-game ban for placing bets which included exotic bets on the Collingwood-St Kilda match in which he played.
One of the AFL hands rakes in gambling dollars while the other tries to monitor activity to ensure the code is not corrupted.
Pell’s alleged offense is another order of magnitude, given that a) it involves the police, he has been arrested and is being questioned, b) he is a referee and referees have a responsibility to enforce the rules and are held to high standards of integrity and conduct, c) the allegations suggest some level of organized activity, not just random betting, and d) the sums of money total several thousand dollars, not the pocket money.
AFL sources suggest the refereeing fraternity, while aware of Pell’s well-being and need for care, is dirty on what is alleged because it damages the reputation of the referees as a collective. Unfortunately, due to the wild tribalism of the game, they have never been as respected as they should be by the footballing public.