Sports betting no longer is a sordid affair conducted illegally through bookies by surreptitious calls from telephone booths. It’s widely legal and instantly available to anybody with a personal computer or even a cellphone.
When betting wasn’t legal, the ‘‘caveat emptor’’ standard rightly applied — in this case, ‘‘Let the bettor beware.’’ But now that sports betting is legal, standards of integrity that have existed for decades in wagering sports such as horse racing should be observed.
The news broke Tuesday that, in a bout watched by more than 2.7 million viewers on ESPN, Vasiliy Lomachenko fought Teofimo Lopez with an undisclosed shoulder injury Saturday in Las Vegas. The injured right shoulder required surgery on the rotator cuff two days after the fight. The doctor who performed the surgery, Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, was quoted as saying that six weeks before the fight, he treated Lomachenko’s shoulder and injected it with a painkiller before the bout.
None of this was made public beforehand. Millions viewed the ballyhooed lightweight unification bout, which was the most-watched boxing match in America in three years, and millions of dollars legally were bet on it. The betting line, which certainly would have been different if Lomachenko’s injury had been revealed, and analysis of betting trends were prominently featured on ESPN’s telecast. Lomachenko, who went off as the 4-1 favorite, had been regarded as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Particularly in a one-on-one combat sport such as boxing, if betting is legal, the interest of the wagering public should be a concern and should be better protected. The commissions that oversee such fights should compel greater transparency on the part of the combatants and their camps.
The issue isn’t whether Lomachenko was fit to fight. The rub is that an injury that might have affected his effectiveness in the fight (which he lost in a lopsided unanimous decision) was not made public. Note my emphasis on ‘‘might.’’ People making legal bets on the fight should have been able to factor that into their wagering decisions.
As an aside, take a gander at the accompanying picture and note how Lomachenko’s right arm is more or less dangling from his side as Lopez lands a punch. Lomachenko’s critics have charged that he has used the shoulder injury as an excuse for losing and to diminish Lopez’s accomplishment. Is it more likely that Lomachenko underwent surgery almost immediately after the fight to ‘‘diminish’’ Lopez or because he was injured?
But back to the subject at hand. Since the advent of legal sports betting, pro leagues have become more cognizant of integrity issues. For example, the NFL correctly has placed far greater emphasis on its injury list. Lomachenko’s undisclosed injury by all rights should cause an uproar, a media firestorm, and the Nevada commission should be getting roasted over this. But to the incestuous national boxing media, what ought to be a huge story hasn’t seemed to register a blip.
To illustrate: I reached out through Twitter to legendary boxing scribe Nigel Collins, the former editor of Ring magazine, and asked him whether boxing commissions should be compelled to execute better due diligence to protect the betting public. Collins’ response: ‘‘I agree that boxers going into a fight with serious injuries are cheating the paying customer. I’m not a gambler, so have no strong opinion about that part of it.’’
Not to dump on Collins, but it’s no wonder boxing is content to continue to do business as it did in the good ol’ days. It has nothing to fear from its ‘‘allies’’ in the media.