The news that Manny Pacquiao is being sued by disgruntled punters on the basis that he failed to disclose a shoulder injury in the build up to his fight with Floyd Mayweather threatens to open up a whole can of gambling worms. Two people in Nevada are alleging that Pacquiao effectively defrauded paying fans, TV viewers and those who gambled on the outcome of the fight by keeping the injury under wraps.
The question of authenticity
But if a sportsman’s state of health going into a contest can be a matter for legal action, you have to wonder, just what else might be subject to litigation? And more to the point, you have to ask, how any sportsman might be expected to compete if his entire physiological state has to be made public in the build up to a contest? Keeping that information out of the public domain – and out of an opponent’s reach – is as much a part of the competition as anything that happens once the bell goes. It is axiomatic that no professional athlete is ever entirely free of injury.
Pacquiao lost on a unanimous points decision to Mayweather in the four-belt unification bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at the beginning of May. But in his post-match interviews the Philippine admitted that a persistent shoulder injury that he had carried into the fight had prevented him from throwing his usually ferocious right hook. By his own admission, therefore, Pacquiao had gone into the fight at less than 100% fit.
The fight attracted more than its fair share of celebrity spectators, including Ben Affleck, whose role in the film Paycheck certainly has a certain resonance here. Affleck’s character was able to predict lottery results and all that goes with that. The point is that a certain amount of acting is just as much a part of any sporting contest as it is any fictional story about TV and movie lottery winners. If the Nevada lawsuit is upheld it will mean that all athletes, not just Pacquiao, will be denied the ability to disguise their real condition.
Unlike the plot of Paycheck, the whole drama of a sporting event is founded on the basis that some elements are hidden from us. That is the whole point of sports, spectating and gambling alike. If the case is upheld, it stands to set an alarming legal precedent. The repercussions could be huge.
The legal stinger
The legal stinger comes from the fact that the fighter had not declared the injury in a pre-fight questionnaire that was put to him by the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC). That document was intended to safeguard Pacquiao’s health – as it is with any fighter. It is a way for the authorities to be able to guarantee, as far as they can, that no one is going into the ring in a condition where they might suffer harm. It is not, and never has been, intended as a marker of a fighter’s likelihood of winning.
The waters are muddied further by the fact that the Pacquiao camp made a request to the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to be able to use a painkiller for the injury during the fight. That was a request that was accepted by USADA but denied by the NAC. In other words, the NAC were aware of Pacquiao’s injury. He had not been keeping it secret, merely attempting to avoid his opponent getting wind of what was, indisputably, a competitive weakness.
If the two people who are making a claim against Pacquiao win their case, the implications may be hugely damaging for the boxer. The charge of perjury carries a jail sentence of up to five years. But there may also be a lingering and more seismic aftershock for sportsmen and women as well as sports fans and the sports betting fraternity. Pacquiao may have lost to Mayweather, but there are good reasons for hoping he prevails in this, his latest battle.