LONDON (AFP) –
A betting controversy has marred the naming of basketball superstar Lauren Jackson as the Australian team’s flag-bearer at Friday’s London Olympic Games opening ceremony.
Jackson, a three-time Women’s NBA Most Valuable Player with Seattle Storm, was a popular choice among athletes, sports fans and even punters, with betting suspended on the identity of the flag-bearer following a spectacular plunge of wagers on the 31-year-old.
Team chef de mission Nick Green played down talk of an investigation by the Australian Olympic Committee into the apparent leak through social media and said only a few people within his organisation knew about the choice.
Jackson opened at 30-1 in betting and was back into 1-2 odds-on before bookmakers Sportsbet stopped betting on the outcome.
A Sportsbet spokesman told the Sydney Daily Telegraph the company had fielded several inquiries from new punters wanting to open accounts and back Jackson which the newspaper said was a solid indicator of a plunge based on inside knowledge.
“We saw it like everyone else yesterday (Thursday) and we’re disappointed with it, maybe there’s an assumption that it might have leaked through social media,” Green told a press conference here on Friday.
“We have a very strict policy on betting within our team. There’s been a lot of speculation on Lauren but ultimately Lauren is absolutely the most amazing choice for the flag-bearer and I’m honoured to make this decision.”
Green said only a few people knew the identity of the Australian team flag-bearer.
“The people who knew I could count them on a couple of fingers, it was a very small group,” he said.
“There’s been some speculation in the social media and made some assumptions that have picked off people and asked them if they’ve been asked or not and there might have been some natural assumptions that were made.”
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge said he was uneasy about the Australian betting revelations.
“I would say that for the spirit of the rules it’s not good, but the letter of the law has not been breached,” Rogge said Friday.
“It has nothing to do with the sporting result or manipulation of the competition, but I feel an unease in this respect.”
The towering Jackson, competing at her fourth Olympics, will become the second basketballer to receive the honour of carrying the Australian flag at an Olympics following Andrew Gaze at the 2000 Sydney Games.
“I can’t believe the overwhelming support I’ve had,” Jackson told the press conference.
“Not for one minute did I expect this to happen and for people to support me the way they have and I just feel so feel humble and honoured to have this role and I hope to do these guys proud.
“A lot of people in Seattle and fans in the WNBA have also sent their congratulations.”
Miami Heat superstar LeBron James, leading the United States squad of NBA stars at the Olympics, led the tributes of Jackson.
“She’s close to the top (of the WNBA). She is really good. She reminds me of (German star) Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks in our league,” James said on Friday.
“She is taller than everybody but she also has got a great shot.”