Cricket, the fixers’ playground

2010-09-04 00:00

SPORT is a battleground between beauty and the beast. Perhaps it is time for the beast to be called to account. Every sport is engaged in a fight for credibility. Boxing has a long history of fighters taking a dive. Horse racing is exposed to insider trading. Greyhounds can run slower after a currant bun and faster after an injection. Rugby League Down Under is investigating claims that players made a packet from deliberately giving away a penalty in front of the posts in the first minute. Football and tennis are not immune.

Indeed it’s not wise to regard any game as safe. Sport reflects its world. A corrupt state will create corrupt sportsmen. Pakistan’s president is known as “Mr 15 Percent” and his country spends 70% of its budget on the army. That does not leave much for health and education. Both South Africa and the UK have endured scandals about politicians claiming excess expenses. And an impoverished teenager is supposed to live by a higher standard?

But it’s no use giving up. Sport deserves better than the cheats with their scams and shallow lives. After all, it is also a land of dreams, a place where the child from the back streets can make his name; the small nation can prove its worth, where courage and hope and sometimes perfection can be found. For all its palaver, it is worth the trouble.

By the look of things, cricket is one the most corrupt games on the list and it’s high time the position was remedied. After the scandals that dominated the game 10 years ago it had been supposed that match fixing had been contained. Clearly it merely went deeper underground. Match fixing is a billion-dollar business employing umpteen players. It’s not going away.

If a Lord’s Test can be corrupted then nothing is safe. Apparently this fixer has been around for ages and was close with other players of recent memory. He was a familiar face, a middleman, a wheeler and dealer, sorting out contracts as well as occupying the secret place between player and bookie. He is a puppeteer ,able to ring up a bowler and tell him exactly when to overstep the line. That is power. That is opportunity. That is money.

Hitherto cricket has not shown the determination needed to weed out the crooks. Not that it’s easy. Paper trails are always hard to follow. Hansie Cronje was caught only because he used a cellphone donated by a dubious businessman whose calls were being tapped. And these bookies are not fly-by-night operators. One lists his activities as drug peddling, arms trade and fixing cricket matches. They are ruthless gangsters, and once a player has been hooked he belongs to them. The players have plenty of reasons to hold their tongues.

But cricket has been feeble. Consider the position of players mentioned in connection with previous match fixing scandals. Mohammed Azharuddin is a member of parliament. Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia are providing expert comments on TV. Manoj Prabhakar is coaching Delhi. It’s the same in Australia, and worse in Pakistan. The Qayyam report recommended banning the culprits for life, but before long they were coaching the national team, assisting England, talking on TV or making a packet in ICL.

These employers cannot escape censure. Let them not bleat or pretend to care. The greedy can fleece the game, get caught, get flogged with a stick of lettuce and then come back. Meanwhile, the principled are compromised. It’s the wrong way round.

As far as the current ignominy is concerned, cricket is already repeating past mistakes. Much has been heard about comparative wages, sick mothers and youth. It’s all soft-soaping. Certainly the Pakistan players are poor cousins, but they are not living in shacks. Others nurse sick mothers without going awry. And 19-year-olds can vote and join the army so they are accountable. These people let their team and country down.

But the worst offenders are the captains. In almost every case they were involved. Over the years as many as 10 international captains took the silver, a devastating number and probably conservative. At least five national teams were affected. The ICC knows it but cannot prove it beyond reasonable doubt. Moreover, pride is at stake. Supporters are remarkably forgiving. It was not long before Cronje was regarded more as a victim than an instigator.

Stronger action is needed. Match fixing is blight on the game. Clearly cricket cannot deal with it alone. On this occasion Scotland Yard was called in. ICL also asked detectives to take over its investigation. Interviews were conducted, affidavits were taken, chicanery was exposed. But then it all went quiet. It was too hard. Cricket can no longer afford that sort of restraint. Courage is needed or else the game will slide further down the path to dishonour.

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