Jailed cricketers just the start of corruption cleansing process

CRICKET has had many seminal moments in its history. From bodyline in the early thirties, to Packer in the seventies and more recently, the takeover of Twenty20 and the Indian Premier League. The ramifications of these, however, pale into insignificance against the conviction of three Test match cricketers for spot fixing. Sentences totalling four years were handed down to Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammed Amir by Justice Cooke last week and, although the allegations of betting and spot fixing in cricket have been prolific in the last 20 years, this is the first time that players have been convicted in a court of law and sent to jail.

These three players, already banned from playing cricket at all levels by the ICC, now face the prospect of a British penal system which will be far removed from their privileged status as international cricketers. There is no doubt the three convicted players were motivated purely by greed and financial gain. The Pakistanis, although remunerated handsomely compared to the average salary in their home country, are amongst the lowest-paid players on the international circuit. The recent problems faced by Pakistan, with internal security concerns and the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus, have led to a reduced playing programme and a lack of invitations to participate in lucrative T20 events around the world. In an era when top cricketers can earn over a million dollars for a month of T20 matches, Pakistan players have been left out in the cold.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), based at the Gaddafi Stadium, have long struggled to address corruption in their country. An ever-changing cricket board, a thriving underground betting culture in Asia and greedy players were a cocktail that would only ever produce scandals that one day would lead to the courts. Following the initial allegations in the press last year, the PCB were fervent in their defence of the players, even levelling counter allegations against the English team.

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The convictions are the latest in a five-year spell of major issues that have afflicted Pakistan cricket. The ball tampering incident in 2006 was followed by the tragic death of Bob Woolmer after defeat to Ireland in the 2007 World Cup, the terrorist issues, internal squabbles and now spot-fixing. The one bright spot has been the limited resurgence of their team on the field, including their World T20 victory in 2009.

The jury at the trial also heard of concerns about other games, including additional matches on the tour to England last year. Two players, Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz, have been named in proceedings and the ICC have confirmed that they will be investigating further. It may be coincidental but neither of these players named during the case are currently playing in the Pakistan team. The revelations made by the player’s lawyers during closing submissions, when other players and fixing syndicates within the Pakistan team were exposed, were damning evidence that last year’s Lord’s test was anything but a one-off incident.

The surface has now been scratched and it is likely that more players and matches will come under the spotlight.

In the last 20 years, many cricket boards have undertaken investigations into match fixing, including the Qayyum inquiry in Pakistan, the King Commission after the Hansie Cronje affair in South Africa, the O’Regan report in Australia and the Chandrachud inquiry in India. The ICC, under the retired Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Condon, bowed to the inevitable, produced their own in depth report and set up their Anti-Corruption Unit. With a two-pronged approach of education for players and the employment of officers at every high-profile game, it has been successful in controlling the problem and has undoubtedly made good progress in a very difficult environment. Within the performance programme in Scotland, our players receive regular education sessions by the ICC and all are aware of the issues regarding betting within the sport. Staff of the Anti-Corruption unit also attend all of Scotland’s major matches with the full member countries.

This same educational system is used worldwide with all the leading countries. However, whenever there is money and corruptible forces at work, total eradication will be virtually impossible. Now, at least, the denial of the scale of the problem can be banished forever. Sir Ronnie Flannigan, Head of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption unit, rightly played down the magnitude of the problem and said it is just a tiny minority of players involved. He is right, although unfortunately it only takes a minority to bring shame on the game.

The News of the World did cricket a great service by its investigation and, although the ICC no doubt wish they had unravelled the plot themselves, they will be delighted with the outcome. Their stated zero tolerance policy towards corrupt activity is admirable and they have played a key role in securing these convictions, but the pressure will now be on them to investigate the further allegations made during the trial and bring any offenders to justice. The sentences for the three Pakistan players will be the biggest deterrent possible to players contemplating taken part in illegal activity, at least in the United Kingdom where precedent has now been set.

Although this is a significant boost to those campaigning against corrupt practices in cricket, there is still much work to be done on and off the field, especially in Asia, which is the hotbed of betting illegality in the game. How important these sentences are will only be judged in time and by the actions of the relevant authorities in first controlling and then eliminating the problems. The world cricket family has been given a shock by these revelations but hopefully in ten years’ time we will see these recent events as a turning point.

Roddy Smith is chief executive of Cricket Scotland