Will jail terms for match-fixing deter cheats?

Cricket’s spot-fixing scandal and its unprecedented jail terms have battered the sport’s credibility, but experts say the case will eventually benefit what was once known as a gentlemen’s game.

The sentences handed out to three Pakistani players—Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif—and their agent Mazhar Majeed for spot-fixing during the 2010 Lord’s Test against England have stunned the cricket world.

But India’s World Cup-winning captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said he had no sympathy for fixers.

“It’s the worst thing you can do while representing your country,” he said.

It is not the first time that the cricket world has been rocked by scandal. In 2000, match-fixing led to life bans for Test captains Hansie Cronje (South Africa), Mohammad Azharuddin (India) and Salim Malik (Pakistan).

But cricketers had never previously been sent to jail for corrupt practices—something that could make players think twice before they do deals with shady bookmakers.

Wake-up call
Popular cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle said the scandal would serve as a wake-up call for players, administrators and fans.

“I fear this might lead to more cynicism, a greater feeling that games, or moments, are fixed,” he said.

“It may be a bad day for Butt and company, but it may not be such a bad day for cricket. Cricketers can now see what may happen.”

Respected cricket writer Peter Roebuck agreed the jail sentences of between six and 32 months, handed out in London on Thursday, would help the game.

“Detection is difficult, but deterrence has more chance of success,” Roebuck wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Events in Southwark Crown Court and subsequent sentences will help cricket to clean up its act.
Those contemplating corruption might not be worried about suspensions but might baulk at a long stint behind bars.”

In danger of being destroyed
The International Cricket Council (ICC) had previously banned all three players for five years, which they are appealing against.

That the scandal was unearthed by a sting operation by the now-defunct News of the World highlights the apparent failure of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU).

The ACSU was set up in 2000 when, in the ICC’s own words, “cricket’s reputation and integrity were tarnished and in danger of being destroyed”.

The unit was headed by former London Metropolitan police chief Paul Condon until June last year, when he retired and was replaced by another senior former British policeman, Ronnie Flanagan.

The ICC has defended the anti-corruption unit, which posts officers at every international match played around the world, saying the ACSU did not have powers to arrest culprits or send them to jail.

Bhogle said he hoped the sport’s administrators would take strict measures to enforce their stated policy of zero-tolerance on corruption, but refused to blame the ICC alone for the current situation.

“The easy way out is to attack the ICC,” he said. “But it does not have the power to send people to jail or to launch a sting of the kind the News of the World did.

“However tame it might seem, education, and stringent punishment in the face of evidence, is about as far as they can go.”

The lure of easy money
Cricket’s dark underbelly, plagued by underworld match-fixing gangs who reportedly bet millions of dollars at virtually every match, remains a constant threat to the sport.

Indian police regularly bust betting rings across the country when cricket internationals are played, but offenders often get off lightly.

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation gave a prescient warning about the underworld’s links with cricket when it probed the match-fixing scandal in 2000.

“During the inquiry,” its report said, “it was learnt that the lure of easy money has gradually attracted the underworld into this racket ... It seems that it is only a matter of time before major organised gangs take direct control of this racket, a phenomenon that will have implications not only for cricket but for national security as a whole.”—AFP

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