‘Spot'light on corruption

Crises have often paved the way for a firmer approach towards long-term solutions. A second alarm in the space of 10 years has been sounded to clean cricket of the muck surrounding it. By Arun Venugopal.

“Oh no, now not these guys too!” was a singular groan of anguish that unified several cricket romantics when skeletons of the spot-fixing scandal began tumbling out in late August 2010, thanks in no small measure to a sting operation conducted by News of the World (now defunct) journalist Mazhar Mahmood. For many, the term ‘spot-fixing', despite its obvious allusion to some kind of rigging, was relatively alien. Influencing the outcome of ‘minor' events within a game constituted spot-fixing, it was told.

As fixing matches in entirety assumed greater danger what with enhanced vigilance, bookies devised such a ‘ploy'. Even as frantic online searches were made in an effort to get a grasp of the issue and its magnitude, the perpetrators — Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir — provoked wide-ranging reactions.

The common theme was, however, the inevitable loss of innocence that came with trust; an implicit trust in the players and the way they played the game. The fact that a precocious teenager was, possibly, lost forever to the game caused further grief. When the sound of the gavel hushed the restless gathering at the Southwark Crown Court in November 2011, cricket reached its lowest point in a decade since the Hansie Cronje shocker.

Butt received a sentence of two years and six months, Asif a year, and Amir six months. Mazhar Majeed, the player agent who orchestrated the crime, received two years and eight months.

Justice Cooke, in his sentencing remarks, tellingly summed up a general sentiment: “The gravamen of the offences committed by all four of you is the corruption in which you engaged in a pastime, the very name of which used to be associated with fair dealing on the sporting field. In Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport, the ordinary follower of the national team feels betrayed by your activities, as do your fellow countrymen in this country. You (Butt, Asif and Amir) have let down all your supporters and all followers of the game.”

After such a turbulent phase of surmise and contradiction, the need for clarity and consistency is now greater than ever before. The International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ICC-ACSU) and its efficacy in dealing with corruption in the game came under the magnifying glass. England Test captain Andrew Strauss felt it was a “toothless tiger”. “They can't get into the real depth of it all because they haven't got the resources available to them. I don't hold it against them; they're doing the best job they possibly can.”

Whether punitive measures are as strong as the Ronnie Flanagan-led ACSU claims them to be has also become point of debate. Former Australian captain Ian Chappell questions if there is really ‘zero-tolerance' to such malpractices. “The fact that players like Marlon Samuels are allowed back into the game after being suspended doesn't imply zero tolerance. The administrators would also gain credibility if there was a life ban in place for every player involved in fixing.”

Lord Paul Condon, former chief of the ACSU, admitted that corruption in cricket “was unlikely to be totally eradicated.” However, he sought the active involvement of players in dealing with the problem. “The anti-corruption endeavour is applied to them rather than with them. They (players) must be empowered and encouraged to become more active stakeholders and guardians of cricket integrity.”

Another Aussie legend Steve Waugh has suggested the use of lie-detector tests to establish the innocence or guilt of a player. What is also of tremendous importance is the synergy between ACSU and law-enforcing authorities; there is, without doubt, a need for 360-degree awareness. Legislative measures too can buttress the cause. The Australian Federal and State government are set to introduce a legislation that would empower them to imprison — up to 10 years — those found to be involved in match-fixing.

Crises have often paved the way for a firmer approach towards long-term solutions. A second alarm in the space of 10 years has been sounded to clean cricket of the muck surrounding it. Although, many systemic and systematic changes have been initiated for the better, it's about time that a robust framework — most comprehensive in its scope — serves the cause of the game, its players and the many millions who invest their well-meaning passion.