It's time to fix the fixers

Salman Butt...in the thick of the 'spot-fixing' scandal.-AP

Cricket needs to toughen up. Harsher penalties on anyone caught with a snout in the trough. The Qayyum Report recommended life bans but the game preferred to forgive and forget. The iniquitous take the money because they are greedy and think they won't get caught and believe that they, at worst, will be flogged with a feather duster. By Peter Roebuck.

Cricket needs to clean out its stables. Catching a few culprits red-handed provides the opportunity. Many fine people have dedicated their lives to the game and they deserve nothing less than a committed assault on the cheats. At such times thoughts turn to the venerable sages, contributors of unimpeachable integrity. What are they supposed to make of the cynicism on display at Lord's? A man who will order or deliver a no-ball for money, a player prepared to undermine his team does not deserve to wear the colours of his country or, for that matter, the clothes of our game.

For that matter many youngsters dream of playing cricket. In their eyes players are conquering heroes demolishing enemy forces with a brandished bat or fierce salvo. Some of them follow it in magazines or on television; others are steeped in its history. All of them, surely, regard the players as champions of the light, not the dark. And they are entitled to their optimism. Sport promises no less than fair play. When it does not keep its word the sense of betrayal is thick and clings like a London fog.

It's time to fix the fixers. Cricket can begin by ignoring all the excuses made on behalf of the rotters. There can be no excuses for this lamentable and cynical betrayal of the very game that uplifts them. Pure and simple, it is greed. Sick mothers, IPL bans and youth have been trotted out. Villages have been visited. Is no man in these circumstances able to remain honest? Is it impossible for the battler to retain his integrity? Soft soaping of this sort merely prolongs the agony. Sparing the blackguards undermines the sincere. Although poorer than their counterparts in India, these fellows were living high on the hog. In any case, 19-year-olds can vote and join the armed forces. Age is merely a mitigating factor. Nothing can excuse the long list of captains on the pay-roll. By now the tally is in double figures.

Never mind that the charged trio include Salman Butt, an erudite captain, Mohammad Asif, a bowler of beautiful cunning, and Mohammad Amir, a novice of the utmost spirit, still they cannot be let off lightly. If corruption is proved then the two seniors cannot play again. Otherwise there will be no stemming the rot. Already it has lasted long enough, taken a terrible toll.

Read the Qayyum's Report. Talk to informed observers of the IPL and Champions League and, for that matter, other sports as well. The danger is everywhere; the rats are running the house. It is not worth playing or watching or covering a game that is not striving to uphold its name. Those seeking fakery can go to the movies or the professional wrestling. Sport lives and dies by its emotions, by the rise and fall of the contest and the player. It has no other justification for taking so much of our time. It is a true story or it is nothing.

Evidently cricket cannot confront the problem on its own. Criminal activity requires the involvement of the forces of law and order, the experts in the field. Corruption is a billion-dollar industry and not to be tackled by well meaning light weights. Hansie Cronje was caught by accident and nailed by Inspector Paul and the Delhi police. Cricket did not so much as suspect him. In this instance detectives from Scotland Yard were alerted by a newspaper. ICL adopted the same strategy when corruption emerged in its ranks.

Now it ought to release the information and affidavits gathered by its investigators. Instead it has shut shop.

Everyone has been worried about damaging the brand but it's not revelations of wrongdoing that hurt a game, it's the impropriety itself. Cricket needs to convince its followers that it cares about its reputation. It's not going to be easy. The corruption has lasted for 15 years at least.

Cricket needs to toughen up. Harsher penalties on anyone caught with a snout in the trough. The Qayyum Report recommended life bans but the game preferred to forgive and forget. The judge was right. The iniquitous take the money because they are greedy and think they won't get caught and believe that they, at worst, will be flogged with a feather duster.

The sanctions have failed. After all the bookies are still around. Just that nowadays they work through middle men. By all accounts MM (Mazhar Majeed) was a familiar figure around the fringes of the Pakistani team, had been pals with recently retired players. He was caught this time, that is all. Obviously his activities were not unknown. Why else did the ‘News of the World' consider him worth approaching? No one ever offered Abraham Lincoln a bribe.

Nor is it merely a matter of the ICC stiffening its backbone. Blaming the governing body is a cop-out. Authority remains in the hands of the member States. Let the Boards themselves take responsibility for their own backyards. Pride cannot be allowed to block the path to redemption. No matter where it leads, the smell must be followed. Reason and romance have not worked.

Appealing to the better nature has not worked. Warnings have not worked. The game does not exist to be exploited by players. Let them too stand up to be counted. Where was the South African daring to condemn Cronje? Where was the Indian outraged by Azharuddin, or the Pakistani appalled by Saleem Malik and company (some of them are now assisting the national team)? If they don't care enough about the game then let them stop playing.

Nor is it right to focus only on Pakistan. Every nation needs to be on guard. India, too, is accountable. Consider the luxury and popularity enjoyed by past offenders. Some are working for TV channels. Others are coaching provincial teams; another is a Member of Parliament for goodness sake. The backslappers attend to them.

They don't deserve the sympathy that goes with the fallen because they are taking the game down with them. Continued success is not much of a deterrent.

It's the same elsewhere. England and Pakistan employ coaches condemned by Qayyum. What sort of message does that send? It's not enough to ban players for life or to improve precautions or summon the police. The entire community needs to work together. Culprits ought to never again be allowed into grounds in any capacity. Only then will the message be heard. Anything less is a betrayal. Money is the problem, and the solution.