Thursday, 3 November 2011

Spot-Fixing: Not a lol matter

So says Tino Best on Twitter. And he's right. This is a long way from being a lol matter.

Corruption in cricket, be it spot-fixing, match-fixing, or simply telling bookies things like the pitch condition has been probably going on for decades. While the ICC and cricket in general has done it's best to stick it's collective head in the sand about the issue and pretend it doesn't happen, given the testimony of Mazhar Majeed's council, it's plainly obvious that this is a much wider-spread issue. As much as we can pretend it doesn't happen, corruption and cheating is rife within cricket, and it's now that we need to start dealing with it.

There has been some debate over the past couple of days about whether it's right for cricketers who've "only" bowled no-balls to go to jail for their actions. Jail is a place for murderers and rapists, not for bowlers who lose their stride, right? Well, while the Crown Prosecution Service has absolutely nothing to do with the governance of world cricket, it's just as well that Majeed, Butt, Asif and Amir have been sent behind bars, as the puny punishments of the ICC act as absolutely no deterrent whatsoever. All three were found guilty by the ICC, but only given bans of a couple of years. What sort of message does that send to a cricketer thinking about getting involved in all of this? Take the money for a few years, get banned, then return a few years later to carry on? And that's all assuming the ICC actually find, stop and catch them, as lest we forget, it was only through the actions of a now defunct tabloid that Amir, Asif and Butt were even caught.

Butt, Asif and Amir have indeed been caught, and brought to justice. They'll now serve 30 months, 1 year, and 6 months behind bars respectively, which will hopefully resonate around the cricketing world. Will it stop the corruption in cricket? In the UK, maybe, as a legal precedent (and the threat of another sting) has been set, which should ward off any untoward activity on these shores. But around the world? The ICC Anti-Corruption squad has proved itself time and again to be toothless, and their inability to find or stop corruption since their conception is incredibly worrying. Butt, Amir and Asif were just plain unlucky to have been caught out by the News of the World; but for the sting they'd likely be still going on now, and would be going on for a while. Just as the other cases of corruption is probably still going on, and will go on, for a while.

The ICC should be spearheading the push against corruption, and with a strong governing body who are naturally suspicious and able to police things effectively, the problem could be stamped out. So when head of the ICC anti-corruption and security unit Ronnie Flanagan says things like "corruption is certainly not rampant in the world of cricket", it hardly sends out a strong message to the corrupt that the ICC are on their case and they should stop.

Cricket is in a mess, and while we will of course enjoy the game we love when it's played, every time there is a fumbled catch, bungled run-out or overstepped no-ball, the doubts will creep in over whether we are seeing a genuine sporting contest between two top-level sides, or whether we're just watching the outcome of a heavily scripted money-making operation. While I'm sure the majority of teams and players aren't involved, there does appear to be a culture of corruption in cricket. Having one spot-fixer in world cricket is too many, and until each and every one is stamped out, there will always be that slight element of doubt hanging over each match we see.

It is a terribly sad day for cricket that an international captain and his opening bowlers have been sent to jail for perverting the sport, but hopefully we can look back on this day as a landmark in the history of the sport. A day that set us on the road to clearing out the corrupt and getting them out of cricket. The question is, can it be done?

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