Inertia at the ICC

Published : Apr 29, 2000 00:00 IST

The ICC has failed to investigate allegations of betting and match-fixing involving players, and in some cases it has colluded in cover-ups. It must now take the lead and cleanse the system.


ONE fact that has gone completely unnoticed in the recent international media coverage of the cricket betting scandal is that from March 1998 to June 1999 the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL) was a bookmaker. Thilanga Su mathipala, the 34-year-old ousted president of the BCCSL, is the chairman of the Sumathi group, which operates a vast network of betting establishments in Sri Lanka.

Last June, in the aftermath of allegations of corruption and rigging of board elections, Sports Minister S.B. Dissanayake suspended the Sumathipala-led cricket board and appointed an interim committee consisting of distinguished former cricketers to admi nister the game. Betting on cricket is a legitimate business in Sri Lanka. There is no prima facie evidence to suggest impropriety on the part of Sumathipala. However, his involvement and continued interest in Sri Lanka's cricket administration ca sts doubts about the extent to which the game's administrators can probe the nexus between players and bookmakers.

The inability of cricket's national and international administrators to investigate bribery allegations effectively and punish persons who are responsible is indeed alarming. The first murmurs about match-fixing in the modern age were heard during the ep ic Headingley Test of 1981, when an inspired rearguard century by Ian Botham helped England beat Australia after being forced to follow on. Two of Australia's players were alleged to have bet on an England victory after it followed on, at 1000-1 odds.

Talk of bribery involving bookmakers persisted through the 1980s. The maverick Pakistani batsman Qasim Omar admitted to having received money from bookmakers to throw his wicket in the 1983-84 Pakistan-Australia series. In spite of these and other widesp read rumours, the International Cricket Council (ICC), a toothless tiger in the best of times, neither alerted the players nor probed the allegations.

The explosion of one-day cricket in the 1990s, especially in South Asia, added to the interest in betting on international cricket. One-day cricket's unpredictability and designated-result format lend the game vulnerable to the casino world of bookmakers . More than Test matches, one-day cricket is clearly susceptible to betting and the inevitable manipulation of the game. The mathematical probabilities offered by betting agents increased with the introduction of spread betting, in which bets are offered on a number of probabilities such as the number of runs a particular batsman would score, the number of overs a particular bowler would bowl and which batsman would hit the first six. This, coupled with the illegal nature of betting on cricket in India and Pakistan, the countries where the commercialisation and popularity of the game are at their highest, has meant that allegations of betting have reached a crescendo in recent years.

THE allegations made by three Australian players - Shane Warne, Ian Healy and Tim May - that Salim Malik of Pakistan offered them money to throw a Test match during the 1994 Pakistan-Australia series was ignored by the ICC. The Australian Cricket Board ( ACB) refused to cooperate with the Pakistan Cricket Board's (PCB) investigations into the matter, and the game's ruling body sat in silence.

In fact, the saga of ICC inactivity over bribery allegations and in many cases the ICC's active collusion in the cover-up of bribery are depressing. The ICC colluded with the ACB in 1994 to put the lid on a controversy over the links between Shane Warne, Mark Waugh and Indian bookmakers in Colombo who paid them to pass on some information. When Warne and Waugh realised they had compromised themselves by consorting with bookmakers they confessed to the Australian management, which in turn informed the IC C.

Instead of instituting an investigation, the ICC kept the affair a secret until four years later when it was uncovered by a journalist. The sanctimonious pleas on the part of Warne and Waugh when their involvement came to light in 1999, that they were un aware of the full nature of their actions, were taken at their face value by the Australian public and cricket administrators. Not only did the two players get off lightly - Warne went on to be chosen one of Wisden's five cricketers of the 20th century - but the cover-up gave a carte blanche to bookmakers. Hansie Cronje's momentous confession came about not as a result of the vigilance of the game's administrators but by a chance event prompted by an unrelated investigation by the Delhi Police.

The Chandrachud Committee in India and the Qayyum Committee in Pakistan may not have corroborated the specific allegations that they were asked to investigate. But they alerted the authorities of both countries to the nexus between betting and cricket. I n the report of the Chandrachud Committee, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha on April 20 by Union Minister for Sports S.S. Dhindsa, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud has labelled Manoj Prabhakar's allegations of match-fixing involving Indian players "imaginary an d unrealistic". While the Committee found no evidence of match-fixing by Indian players and officials, the report said large-scale illegal betting on matches did take place in India. Justice Qayyum's report remains officially undisclosed, but its finding s have been leaked. The reluctance of Pakistan's military dictatorship to release it highlights the lack of accountability in that country. The ICC's inertia in the midst of these judicial investigations is galling.

The first measure that cricket's ruling body and its nine full members must pursue is officially to put an end to the blurred distinction between match-fixing and giving information to bookmakers about the state of the match. Cronje's steadfast denial th at he was involved in match-fixing should not be taken as a definitive statement. Any information passed on to an outside party that might be used to decide the odds on any aspect of a game should surely constitute fixing. The nature of cricket is such t hat no single event can be isolated and seen as completely irrelevant to a game's result.

Next, the ICC should investigate thoroughly and on a systematic and regular basis all allegations of betting. This would not only open up the shady deals of players, officials and bookmakers to scrutiny but also put an end to the whispering campaign that plagues discussions of match-fixing. Wrongdoers should be subjected to the full face of the game's censure. Sunil Gavaskar's suggestion that disgraced players should have their names struck off the official statistical record of the game is apt. The obv ious sporting precedent is when Ben Johnson was retroactively stripped of his Olympic gold medal in 1988 when tests revealed that he was using performance-enhancing steroids.

Further, the ICC should insist that the individual boards have with players a clear contractual relationship that unequivocally precludes them from involvement with bookmakers. Woolly and anachronistic invocations of the 'spirit of the game' are an insuf ficient sanction on today's players. At present not all Test-playing countries have contractual arrangements with their players, let alone contracts that explicitly debar them from colluding with bookmakers.

The ICC should take the lead by adopting these significant measures. By doing so, one hopes that the sordid events of the last fortnight would signal not just the end of Cronje's cricketing career but the start of a concerted effort to rid the game of co rruption.

Nirgunan Tiruchelvam is a contributor to, an online cricket magazine.

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