Wimbledon 2016 ended about a month ago, however, there’s still some news, bizarre as it may seem, coming out of England regarding the tournament. Authorities in England are investigating whether Gabriella Taylor, a British player that was active in the Junior Girl’s tournament, was poisoned.
Taylor made the quarterfinal of the juniors’ event, a match that she lost via a mid-match retirement due to illness. After she had pulled out of the match, she was taken to a local hospital to have her illness diagnosed and treated. After spending days in the hospital and coming face-to-face with her mortality, the young athlete’s diagnosis ended up being leptospirosis.
The World Health Organization provides the following description of that disease: “Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects both humans and animals. Humans become infected through direct contact with the urine of infected animals or with a urine-contaminated environment.” The health authority also lists several risk factors, including occupations where animal handling is common or living in a region where flooding has taken place.
A BBC article mentions “rat urine” as a medium that the disease can be transmitted through and notes that Taylor’s diagnosis was for a “rare strain” of the disease. Mirror, another British news source, states that “Police are reportedly investigating whether Taylor could have been targeted by an organized crime betting syndicate or a rival player or coach.” The police could be on a couple of wild-goose chases with those two angles. However, I think the latter is more plausible than the former.
In my view, “an organized crime betting syndicate” would be unlikely to poison an athlete for a couple different reasons. In the “crime betting syndicate” scenario you might picture criminals poisoning Taylor and then betting against her, knowing that she would be less than 100%. However, that wouldn’t be a plan that would be likely to work.
Firstly, you would have to know when the poisoning would take effect. If you bet against Taylor in a match then it would be no use if she withdrew from the tournament due to her poisoning ahead of the target match. The bet doesn’t win anything if the match doesn’t take place – it just gets voided.
But secondly, even if she played a part of the match, a lot of sportsbooks will not recognize a tennis match result unless the match is completed. In other words, a player pulling out of a match due to illness or injury pushes all the bets on the outright winner’s market. That’s something that can be verified from, for example, bet365’s tennis-betting rules: “In the event of a match starting but not being completed then all bets will be void.”
There certainly are other angles you could take on a betting conspiracy besides a straight-up bet against Taylor, so I can see why Scotland Yard is taking a look at this angle. Furthermore, betting rules do vary between sportsbooks, of which they are tons and tons. Accordingly, the “crime betting syndicate” conspiracy theory is not dead in the water.
However, that conspiracy theory struck me as exceptionally risky for alleged perpetrators, so risky that they would have to be dumb to try it. Poisoning someone, which arguably requires some intellect, carries possible murder charges so it would take a huge potential payoff for most people to risk that kind of prison sentence. Even if the plan did work, there would be an extra risk because the size of the bet would be something that would be bound to draw a lot of attention from investigating authorities.
Sportsbooks don’t actually like paying out big winnings so if they saw a huge bet placed against a player who ended up being poisoned; I doubt that they would just pay the huge winnings out without alerting authorities. In short, even if a plan to poison Taylor and to bet against her was successful initially, the sportsbook paying the winning bet would be a potential hang-up.
The last point about the betting conspiracy theory I’d like to make is that most betting scandals that I’ve read about involve point shaving (i.e.,. Boston College basketball in 78/79) or co-opted athletes deliberately losing (i.e.,. 1919 Black Sox). Poisoning an athlete to an inch of her life has no precedent in betting scandals that I know of. To me, Taylor’s alleged poisoning is probably more of a malicious attack….or maybe there was no poisoning at all.
There certainly are precedents where rivals in sports have attacked their opponents outside of their sport. The most famous example that comes to my mind is the widely-covered attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in the mid-1990s. One of her rivals, a woman named Tonya Harding, was allegedly part of an orchestrated attack on Kerrigan’s lower body in order to prevent her from competing in an upcoming competition. Weird Al Yankovic lampooned the incident in a song called Headline News:
“Once there was this girl who
Swore that one day she would be a figure-skating champion
And when she finally made it
She saw some other girl who was better
And so she hired some guy to
Club her in the kneecap.”
The betting angle on the Taylor poisoning is interesting, but I think the latter conspiracy has more precedent in terms of similar events. However, it might be that no one did anything to anyone here. We’ve all read news stories where something disgusting ends up in someone’s food or drink, due to factory errors or mishandling of food. Maybe Taylor, like the rest of us, is just vulnerable to catching one of the diseases that are out there.
On that matter Taylor’s mother claims that her daughter stayed “in a completely healthy environment” – you know the land that has no bugs, rodents, or any microscopic germs. Tennis players travel a lot, and they don’t tend to stay in dives. But even if you stay in a nice hotel with a high standard of cleanliness, there are health risks.
I’ve worked in hotel management, and I’ve contracted exterminators and spoken with them. They’ve told me that the nicest hotels in town have pest problems: the difference between a nice hotel and a shabby one isn’t an absence of urinating pests – it’s that the former has a budget to fight them (with varying results). You could stay in the best hotel in town; there’s still going to be things crawling between the walls that probably coming out at night.
I don’t really think that “a completely healthy environment” actually exists and any reasoning that presumes that it does is entirely fallacious. Next time you get a cold, just assert that you since you live in “a completely healthy environment” that you therefore, must be a victim of biological warfare and make the police investigate the mafia and your rivals.
Furthermore, there is the point about the disease that the World Health Organization notes: floods can cause regional spikes in leptospirosis. According to Taylor’s homepage at the WTA website, she was competing in events in Great Britain for much of June.
That was at a time when “Flash flooding (caused) chaos in parts of England” (June 7th, 2016 article at the BBC). Taylor was in the London area for Wimbledon, she was in Birmingham for quallies for a WTA event in that city, and she was somewhere called Surbiton before that. After traveling around England, maybe she just got the disease as a result of the flooding that took place in the country. I know there was flooding near London in June, so perhaps there’s a lead there to investigate.
In conclusion, the story involving Taylor feels like it could turn into a conspiracy theory with fingers pointed at sports punters and her rivals. My hope on the matter is that no one gets judged without some strong evidence first. There are lots of ways people can get sick and settling on one theory regarding how microscopic organisms travel around seems ridiculous.