Heavy temptation to fix the odds

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Heavy temptation to fix the odds

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In his 2005 book “Freakonomics,” American economist Steven D. Levitt provided evidence of the probability of match-fixing in Japanese sumo wrestling. By studying data on 32,000 matches fought among 281 sumo wrestlers from January 1989 through January 2000, he concluded that the probability of bout-rigging among sumo players was high.

The world of sumo is divided into two leagues. The upper league is led by the highest makuuchi division of yokozuna (grand champions). That is followed by the juryo division and the lower league. If a wrestler gets to the juryo division, he can lead a decent life with a good salary.

Players who compete in anything lower than the second division are considered to be trainees and receive only a fairly small allowance instead of a salary. A player gets promoted only if he wins 8 matches out of 15.

Levitt studied the last match fought by wrestlers who scored seven wins and seven losses as they were competing for their eighth win. When they competed against wrestlers who scored eight wins and six losses, or nine wins and five losses, they recorded winning rates of 80 percent and 73.4 percent, respectively. Levitt inferred that match-fixing was the reason for the rapid rise of the winning rate, which was around 50 percent ordinarily. He concluded that whether it was money or the promise of shaving points in the next match, some type of reward was offered, calling it the “temptation of incentives.”

When Levitt’s theory was confirmed and it was revealed that sumo wrestlers fixed matches for money, Japan was thrown into confusion. Bout-rigging is a betrayal and a crime, but these days it is commonplace, and even Korea is not free from suspicion.

Last year, it was revealed that the competition that would select the members of the national short track team was rigged. The world of cyber sports is tainted with match-fixing scandals by professional gamers. In the world of football and baseball, rumors of scandal persist as well.

Unfortunately, the temptation to fix one’s odds is not limited to sports. It also happens in social life, business and almost every aspect of life with uncertain odds.

The sumo bout-rigging scandal clearly shows that if one fails to refuse the fatal temptation to fix the odds, it is not only the person himself, but also the whole operation that will be ruined.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Ko Dae-hoon
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