Will Banning Boards From International Cricket Help?
In 1965 Yash Chopra directed Hindi movie Waqt became one of the biggest blockbusters of its time. It showcased besides other things some of the top dialogues in the history of Bollywood movies such as Raaj Kumar’s Jinke apne ghar sheeshay ke hon, woh dusron par pathar nahi phenka karte (Those whose own houses made of glass do not throw stones at others) and Jani, Yeh bachon ke khelne ki cheez nahi, haath kat jaye toh khoon nikal aata hai (This is not a child’s plaything. If the hand is slashed, blood oozes out) are remembered even today. Now when the whole cricketing world is shaken by the spot fixing scandal and subsequent sentencing of Pakistani trio of Salman Butt, Mohd Asif and Mohd Amir, most of the experts including some former players are hailing the London court’s judgment and say the disgraced players deserved it, one is reminded of those dialogues.
Mohd Azharuddin who was banned for life by the BCCI, is now member of Parliament representing the ruling Congress party. Shoaib Malik under shadow of match fixing has been selected to represernt Pakistan. Again Wasim Akram is now a respected commentator. Then there are Sri Lankan players also involved. The list is very long. In organised sports, match fixing, game fixing, race fixing, or sports fixing occur as a match is played to a completely or partially pre-determined result, violating the rules of the game and often the law. Where the sporting competition in question is a race then the incident is referred to as race fixing. Games that are deliberately lost are sometimes called thrown games.
The spot-fixing scandal revolves around the three players convicted of taking money from a bookmaker, Mazhar Majeed (who has also been sentenced), to under-perform deliberately at certain times in the 4th Test match against England at Lord’s last year. Undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood from now defunct News of the World, secretly videotaped Majeed accepting money and informing him that fast bowlers Asif and Amir would deliberately bowl no balls at specific points in an over. This information could be used by gamblers to place bets with inside information (i.e. spot fixing). In response to these allegations, Scotland Yard arrested Majeed on the charge of match fixing and the International Cricket Council (ICC) banned Butt, Asif and Amir —for terms of between 5 and 10 years. Early this month these players along with the bookie were sentenced, ranging from six months to 32 months. The players were ordered to pay compensation towards prosecution costs—Butt £30,937, Amir £9,389 and Asif £8,120.
Majeed’s lawyer told the court that Asif received \ 65,000, Butt \ 10,000 and Amir pound stg. 2500 from Majeed. He said the 28-year-old fast bowler was paid more to ensure he remained loyal to this group and not to “others”. While announcing the sentences Justice Cooke said cricket matches would forever be tainted by the scandal. According to Crown Prosecution worker Sally Walsh, this prosecution had shown that match fixing is not just unsportsmanlike, but is a serious criminal act. And there are still four more suspects too—the Akmal brothers, Arif Wahab and Mr X, Butt’s ‘real’ partner and also a former test cricketer, Yasir Hameed who though denied the allegations that he had turned down a bookmaker’s offer of £100,000 to help fix a Test. He had allegedly told the newspaper that almost every match was fixed. In November last year wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider left the team before their fifth and decisive one-day game against South Africa, and flew from Dubai (where the series was being held) to London. He sought asylum and claimed that he had been threatened to throw the game. While lot of chest beating is going on in Pakistan and some are trotting up the excuses that players, coming from very poor not very well educated backgrounds are being framed to bring bad name to the country already dubbed a failed state by many, it should remember what their father of the Nation Mohd Ali Jinnah once said: “Poverty is no excuse for corruption.”
Butt, who made his test cricket debut in 2003 and has played 33 test matches and 78 one day internationals admitted once during a hearing before jury that during his cricket career he earned nearly 15 billion (Pakistani) rupees. Aamir and Asif in their brief careers have also made a lot of money but how much more money one need to survive is still a question that has not been answered. It is also interesting to read what Mazher Mahmood, the journalist who carried out the sting operation had to say about these disgraced cricketers and reaction of the bookie.
“Cricket? What cricket? Pakistani cricketers didn’t play ‘for the love of the game’ but instead for money, women and food. I’ve been doing it with them, the Pakistan team, now for about two and a half years and we’ve made masses and masses of money,” Mazhar Majeed reportedly said at his first meeting with Mahmood. In a blow-by-blow account in The Sunday Times, Mahmood wrote in his article titled “How I Broke the Cricket Scandal” that the tip-off about Pakistani players’ involvement with Majeed and his betting scam came from “a former member of the Pakistan cricket management team” who also gave him two telephone numbers for Majeed.
Will these sentences stop the scourge of match or spot fixing? Well given the amount of money involved in such cases it looks highly improbable. It is estimated that the last tournament saw an estimated £1 billion (74 billion rupees) bet on 57 matches in the Indian Premier League. In India and Pakistan there are no legal betting outlets so the biggest winners will always be the bookies. Consumers of wagering services have no recourse should the games be fixed and are definitely subject to the gap between fairness and a manipulated game. Statistics have proven beyond any question that cricket has the most bet on it in the world today. During the 2010 World Cup in the West Indies, each match drew bets worth £3 to 4 million. In contrast, the Indian Premier League, which preceded the T20 World Cup by a scant few days, realised wagers, amounted to over £12 million per match on Betfair’s online gambling web site.
The high profile trial in the UK of the Pakistani cricketers accused of match fixing had the prosecution lawyer revealing to the court that India had illegal wagering syndicates operated by so-called “shadowy figures”. The lawyer described the syndicates as mere conduits for $50 billion worth of bets within the cricket playing industry. Stung by the furore and the shame ICC’s former anti-corruption head, Lord Condon, has called for countries whose players are caught up in match-fixing to be banned from the international arena. “The ICC has to give out the harshest sentences it can. The nuclear option is banning boards from international cricket,” he said. He further said: “The ICC must get tougher; this is a big wake-up call. Cricket is at credibility crossroads. The ICC and national boards have to be tough and, if they are not, they have to face the consequences.”
ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat’s reaction was on predictable lines. “We hope that this verdict is seen as a further warning to any individual who might, for whatever reason, be tempted to engage in corrupt activity within our sport,” he said and reiterated the ICC’s zero-tolerance policy on any form of corruption and said that all allegations would be “comprehensively investigated and, where appropriate, robustly prosecuted”.
By Harpal Singh Bedi