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Pakistani Spot Fixing: Criminal or something deeper?

September 21, 2010

Mohammad Asif on tour in South Africa in 2007. Photograph: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

The myth of egalitarianism within sport has a strong hold on the consciousness of a lot of people. If you want any evidence of that just witness the fall out when it comes to the spot fixing scandal regarding Pakistani Cricketers. The AAP reported on August 31 that “A Pakistan court has summoned seven national cricket players, the country’s sports minister and its cricket chief to face treason charges over fixing allegations in England.”  Alongside of this has been death threats, calls for life-time bans for all involved and even for them to be executed, with that type of atmosphere, it’s hard for reason to break through. People often like sport because is seems more honest and trustworthy than politics and society in general, two teams compete fairly on a field and the best team wins. When that trust is broken it’s a deep breach. But as the Gang of Four sung there is “no escape from society”, meaning that if there is corruption within society then sport will not be immune from it.

So, what happened? First, it must be said that there is no evidence yet of any match fixing by any Pakistani players. News of the World has reported Pakistani players Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt had accepted bribes from bookmaker Mazhar Majeed to under-perform at certain points in a Test match in England, uncovered in a sting operation where an undercover journalist was talking to Majeed who described certain events that subsequently came true in the test match.

Two bowlers were apparently given money to bowl “no-balls” at pre-ordained times. This is not match fixing, which is when players deliberately lose a game. As Vic Marks in The Observer wrote “Occasional no-balls are unlikely to affect the outcome of a match, but if delivered to order they can make huge sums of money for those participating in the illegal betting syndicates of the subcontinent.”

The News of the World  article and video can be found here:

Before we put the players to death, we should establish some things first. By all appearances this type of incident wouldn’t be unique in cricket, corruption is all throughout the game. Peter Roebuck wrote in the The Age that:

“Cricket is riddled with corruption. India’s most devious captain is now a member of parliament. ICL matches were rigged. Persistent rumours insist that leading IPL players have been bought and sold, and rumours can no longer be ignored.

An Australian was approached in the inaugural edition of the Champion’s League. He reported the matter. How many less scrupulous players have been approached? Only the complacent will believe it was an isolated case. The bond of trust has been broken. Not long ago an eminent cricketing figure was surprised to hear colleagues repeatedly talking about Inzamam-ul-Haq’s running between wickets. He was asked to continue the conversation on air. Finally the penny dropped. The bookies were offering a spread on how often the topic would crop up.”

It is not just a Pakistani problem. Players from South Africa, West Indies, Kenya and India have been given lengthy bans for receiving money to influence games, while Australian players Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were fined for giving pitch information to bookmakers in return for payment.

The News of the World said “The scam, fuelled by greed, is a betrayal by the players not only of their sport but of their cricket-crazy homeland.” But was it greed? We know Majeed’s dirty role, but no one knows what the motivations of the players were. Were they paid or just promised to be paid? How much were they going to get and how did the deal came about?

A voice of reason in the issue has been former Pakistani coach Geoff Lawson who wrote, “People have been quick to judge the Pakistani cricketers, but what is happening might have nothing to do with money. If these allegations of fixing are proved, it could be related to extortion, threats, and the well-being of their own family members. It would not surprise me if illegal bookmakers have told players that if they do not perform X and Y, their families will be kidnapped or harmed.”

He recalled the following incident when he was coach “This selector said: ‘‘we must pick [the player who had earlier approached me], I have been told that if he is not in the team tomorrow, my daughter will be kidnapped and I will not see her again.”

At first we both laughed, but then we realised he was being serious. Our chairman then called the president, Pervez Musharraf, who in turn phoned the people behind the threats and said they had better reconsider or else. The next we heard the matter had been resolved.” He went on to say “I will never condone any form of fixing, but we should consider that a cricketer might not be thinking of personal gain but of getting money to buy a generator for his village because they don’t have electricity.

I had a lot to do with Mohammad Asif and he was always missing training sessions to look after his sick mother. He has spent a lot of his money on looking after his family.”

This is exactly the point. Bookmakers and betting syndicates are known for their strong-arm tactics, particularly when millions of dollars are involved, so the threat of violence can’t be ruled out.

But if they did accept money out of their own free will it doesn’t follow necessarily that they are greedy. There is a massive difference in the financial situation of Pakistani and Australian players. Australian players are financially secure. Ricky Ponting, earns AUS$1 million a year from Cricket Australia and about AUS$4 million overall every year. Mohammed Aamer, one of the plays implicated earns about AUS$2200 a month from the Pakistani Cricket Board and a test match fee of around AUS$3,300.

In Pakistan, that is a lot of money but in comparison to everyone else in the game and what the game makes globally, it is a pittance. It also must be remembered that this is not guaranteed income, players can lose form, get injured and top class careers rarely last more than 10 years

Mohammed Malik Qayyum, a Pakistani high court judge said in 2000, “Pakistani players for all their talent are not as well-paid as their counterparts abroad. As long as they are underpaid the tendency to be bribed remains.”  The reality is, for most people, is that their families or friends survival is more important than an ill-defined sporting honour, so the incentive will remain to receive money to insure that survival.

The biggest scandal in this whole affair is not that no-balls were deliberately bowled but rather that it takes personal money from a cricket player for some Pakistani villages to start receiving electricity.

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