Thursday, September 2, 2010

What You See Is NOT What You Get- Cricket fans taken for a ride in the match fixing saga.

The recent news item on match-fixing by the English paper, News of the World, literally shook the cricket world when it demonstrated the spot-fixing incidents to cricket fans all over the world. It showed a video interview , secretly recorded, of the bookie predicting the specific moments during the penultimate day of the Lords test match between England and Pakistan when the match will be fixed. Besides proving beyond doubt that spot-fixers have also the ability to fix the entire match with the help of a skipper and some key players (if not all) walking that extra mile to under perform; the video also demonstrated reality television at its very best where it reveals the machinations behind the glamour & glitz of a "gentleman's game" like Cricket. For the cricket fans , its a saga of 'What you see is definitely not what you get,'; an opaque system of administration that hides more than it reveals, a con game that makes money out of the naive fans just like the toxic mortgage-loan derivatives that wall street banks sold to unsuspecting pension funds & others during the financial crisis.
When the scandal broke out 4 days earlier, the Prime Minister of Pakistan expressed his nation's deep anguish & shame that the 3 Pakistan cricketers have brought about. But today, the Pakistan High Commissioner in London , announced his decision to defend the accused cricketers to the end unless they are proven guilty after investigations by the Scotland Yard comes to a close. A very nice somersault ! Diplomatic camouflage of a blatant corrupt act hinting at a forthcoming political power-play between International Cricket Council (ICC) & Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). All except one of the offenders have been charged earlier with other misdemeanours including doping but the PCB decides to close its eyes to reality & takes refuge under the umbrage of lack of "credible legal evidence." Even after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai , Pakistan government did not find similar evidence to prosecute militant groups operating from within Pakistan against India in spite of the fact that the Indian government handed over dossiers of dossiers of evidence, vetted by the US government, against such organisations.
Experts in Britain point out as to how , under British law, charges will be difficult to frame against the cricketers , irrespective of the Scotland Yard investigation, as the alleged act of fixing has not caused any "material loss" to any body or at least that there are no official complaints to that effect. Hopefully some sensible fan or a body representing viewing fans should file a public interest litigation claiming damages for being cheated on the ground. At the least , this body should ask for refund of all the gate money from English Cricket Board (ECB) for the test matches , in the current series, held till date. That's substantial material loss for ECB to file a complaint.
More worrisome to PCB's non-action is cricket's supreme body, ICC's wait-and-watch policy. The Anti-corruption Security Unit (ACSU) of the ICC has devised a detailed code about anti-corruption relating to players and their support personnel. Under its provisions, a player can be provisionally suspended under Article 4.6 of the code ,by the Anti Corruption Tribunal of ICC only after issuing a "notice of charge " under Article 4.5 to the offending players. This notice can be issued only after ACSU completes its own investigations or it can stay its investigations pending the outcome of an investigation by the national cricket federation (PCB in this case) or other relevant authorities (Scotland Yard in this case).
From the nature of ICC's responses till date, it is becoming increasingly evident that ICC ( just like PCB) is waiting for the London detectives to complete their investigations. And since Scotland Yard will find it difficult to frame charges , for want of material loss suffered by a third party, the outcome is becoming crystal clear . Neither PCB nor ICC will be able to do anything worthwhile. And this is further compounded by the Article 3 of the code which defines "Standard of Proof & Evidence." Under this law , ACSU expects "proof beyond reasonable doubt" for serious offences . Video & Photographic evidences will fall short of such standards. Of course, "admissions" by offending players will be accepted as proof. That is precisely how Hansie Cronje of South Africa got himself charged a decade back (incidentally ACSU quotes this case as their 'prized' work). But the Pakistanis are clever. They have already stated their innocence in the matter through the High Commissioner and it is not expected for any of them to admit guilt of any sort later.
So, what can the ICC do to restore the reputation of the game back and to assure fans that the matches they are viewing are not spot fixed partially or totally? The role & power of the ICC is extremely limited in bilateral series like the present one between England & Pakistan. But it can wield its disciplinary sword in tournaments that fall solely under its jurisdiction, chiefly the World Cup and the Champions trophy. ICC has already taken out Pakistan from the host body of the 2011 World Cup. No matches will be played in Pakistan . Now it can go one step further and provisionally suspend the PCB from registering their team in the WC 2011 unless they clean up the rot of corruption from among its officials and the players. Habitual offenders need to be kept behind the line of murk to restore confidence among the fans.
But such an action will be difficult for ICC to take . Even South Africa lost its membership (due to its apartheid regime) not because it got sacked by ICC but only because it left the commonwealth thus automatically nullifying it's membership in ICC. In those days, commonwealth membership meant ICC membership.
So then what is the recourse left to the cricketing fans to ensure that action needs to be taken against match fixing? Will fans in India , Sri Lanka & Bangladesh now stage demonstrations specifically at all the playing centers where Pakistan is slated to play in WC 2011 and generally at all other playing venues, demanding that they will boycott the WC 2011 matches if Pakistan plays?
The way things are now , large scale protest by fans remain the only way to drill a sense into ICC's toothless administrators that "public confidence in the authenticity and integrity of the game has been repeatedly undermined (by offences committed by Pakistani cricketers) and they have shaken the very essence of Cricket to the core;" the last quote having been deftly articulated under Article 1.1.2 of the Anti Corruption code of the ICC.

Picture Source: News of the World

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