November 4, 2011

Corruption in international sport

Fri, Nov 4. 2011

The conviction and jailing, this week in London, of three leading Pakistani cricketers on charges of spot-fixing and bribe-taking, has once more cast a dark shadow over, not just cricket, but international sport as a whole. The three, former captain Salman Butt, ace fast bowler Mohammad Asif, ranked as the No. 2 bowler in the world at the time of his suspension on the charges, and young paceman Mohammad Amir, were jailed for 30 months, one year and six months respectively by the London Crown Court, as well as being fined.{{more}} A fourth Pakistani citizen, the players’ agent, Mazhar Majeed, was also jailed for 2 years and 8 months for his part in the spot-fixing deal.

Butt and Asif had entered “not guilty” pleas, whilst the 19-year old Amir, and the agent both admitted their guilt. The charges stem from incidents in a Test match between Pakistan and England at the Oval in London last year, when both fast bowlers, bowled pre-arranged no-balls, as agreed with the agent and skipper, Butt. It is now big business in sport to bet on specific outcomes or events, including ball-by-ball, creating temptation to rig such bets. The practice is described as being widespread on the Indian sub-continent and was the cause of one of the Caribbean’s top young cricketers receiving a two-year ban.

It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the only manifestation of such corrupt practices in international cricket. Indeed, Pakistan cricket has become tainted by it and during the trial, evidence emerged of other players being possibly involved. Former Test players have been accused of involvement in crooked practices. But this is not unique to Pakistan. In India, players and cricket administrators have been named and some found guilty, while there are examples in South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka to name a few. Many other top cricketers from all nations have admitted to having been approached to “sell” games.

Such revelations are seriously tarnishing the image of international sport. Perhaps the worst example is the governing body of world football, FIFA, accused in many quarters of being “rotten to the core”. FIFA has had to suspend and expel officials from its Executive Body for bribery and corruption. The case of Jack Warner and Caribbean football officials has been widely publicised, but that is like a drop in the bucket of the ocean of FIFA corruption. Currently, the head of the Brazilian Federation, host to the 2014 World Cup, Ricardo Texeira, is under investigation for money-laundering and bribe-taking, which allegedly netted him some US$10 million. His father-in-law, former long-time FIFA President Joao Havelange is also alleged to have gained some US $ 50 million in similar shady deals.

As sport becomes more lucrative, the chances of serious corruption multiply. The Olympic Games had its infamous Salt Lake scandal. Cheating in sport has become even more commonplace. In cricket, in football, baseball and whatever the endeavour, the more at stake, the bigger the cheat. The use of performance enhancing drugs is one such area affecting athletics, weightlifting, baseball and many other sports, too numerous to mention.

Sport has its roots in society and modern society in all its forms now seems to be based on “succeed at all costs, by all means, fair and foul”. The money moguls of the world do it with impunity, for it seems to only be a crime if one is convicted, and the more powerful one is, the greater the chances of escaping unpunished.

Yet we hold up sport to our youth with idealistic fervour. In addition, to quote the Indian cricket commentator and writer, Harsha Bogle, “sport tugs at the heart in a way no other public activity can”. This is what magnifies the offences of Salman Butt and his colleagues. Guilty they might be, but certainly no worse than those behind the scenes who rake in millions from the betting and spot-fixing, luring young impressionable athletes to their doom.

The Pakistani cricketers were caught in the web of corruption that contaminates, not just sport, but the entire range of financial transactions in the modern world. While not at all condoning their actions, it is the cancer inherent in society which must be addressed. And lest, we widen the blanket to cover all sportsmen and women, we here quote Bogle again, reminding us that: “Among sportsmen/women are the noble, the diligent and the caring, as there are the callous, the cheats and the criminals”.