Game's rulers have to bite not bark

Politics and lack of hard evidence threaten to leave ICC match-fixing summit impotent despite calls for positive action
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Before Hansie Cronje's 11th-hour admission of wrongdoing brought things to a head, the International Cricket Council had been running a series of television advertisements about the game, featuring Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. In the short slots, Mr Annan says we all know "what is not cricket" before reeling off such examples as racism, intolerance and prejudice. Of match-fixing and betting there is not a mention.

This holds no great surprise given the ICC's abysmal track record at tackling the problem when the serious whispers first began to surface seven years ago. But if the organisation lacked both the incisors and the incisiveness to bite down hard on those involved, there is a very real worry that little will be solved over the coming days.

To go forward requires a willingness from all parties. The ICC may have shown a united front in assembling for the emergency summit at Lord's over the next two days, but it has rarely acted with such unison in the past when rifts tended to run between "old school" members like England, Australia and West Indies and "new school" types like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The prospect that accusing fingers may need to be pointed will not help to maintain harmony. To date, all but West Indies appear to have had players approached by bookies, though proof needed to catch the guilty men remains elusive. Even when it does exist, as in the report compiled by Justice Qayyum into allegations involving Pakistani players, some higher authority - in this case a leading politician - prevents its release.

The trails, both false and real, that lay in between have complicated the issue to the point where fact and fiction have become equally plausible. For the 18 delegates at Lord's, deciding who to believe over the next two days will be as difficult asdeciding what to believe.

So far, the hardest evidence has come from police investigations in India, which, along with the Middle East, is where most in cricket feel the big answers lie. Yet even suggesting as much could turn the summit into a slanging match.

As chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Lord MacLaurin is England's representative at the 18-man meeting. The prime mover in getting the ICC to respond with unprecedented haste, MacLaurin is clear what route hebelieves the meeting should take.

"I seriously hope we achieve a lot," said MacLaurin. "It's important to get together and work out a sensible way forward. Everyone has to be under the microscope from the president to umpires and groundsmen. It's not just the players."

His rhetoric may come closer to the bone than intended in light of the recent claims against Jagmohan Dalmiya, the current President of the ICC and chairman of this meeting. Only recently, I S Bhindra, Dalmiya's predecessor as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, announced that the ICC boss was in the "grip of the mafia and sharks".

Dalmiya, the mastermind behind the ICC's mini-World Cup in Bangladesh 20 months ago, has also been accused of financial irregularities to the tune of $4m (£2.5m) by Arun Aggarwal, a financial adviser brought in by India's Doordarshan TV company to investigate the sale of TV rights for that tournament. Dalmiya hasdenied the claims and is suing.

The core of the problem lies with TV's relationship with cricket and, in particular, limited-over matches. Since the satellite revolution, one-day cricket has provided a financial windfall for the sport, particularly in the subcontinent, where public support for this form of the game verges on hysteria. In 1998, India played 48 one-day internationals, as compared to 12 by England.

Administrators, sensing perhaps that the fatted calf would not last forever, have become greedy, creating more and more one-day tournaments. Unwittingly, or perhaps not, this has helped precipitate the current crisis by providing bookmakers with more matches to offer bets on and players with a mountain of one-day cricket to play. As the latter has escalated, so too have the chinese whispers.

Swift and permanent solutions will not be easy to find. Some, like MacLaurin and David Richards, the chief executive of the ICC and another present at the summit, feel an amnesty may represent the best way of getting to the root of the infection, and then keeping it clean.

Perhaps it does, but if some of the darker stories involving murdered bookies are true - and in an illegal industry worth billions of pounds they probably are - the ICC will not be able to guarantee the safety of those coming forward.

In any case, an amnesty will probably not appease the public who, even if only half the claims surfacing have substance, must feel cheapened. If not vengeful enough to want life bans for those involved, they will at least want the guilty parties to be named and shamed.

One solution for the future may be to let the players have a greater say in the running and policing of the game, as they do in golf and tennis. Though not involved at the current summit, David Graveney, the acting chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations, has had discussions with both Richards and Lord MacLaurin on the matter.

For those watching the mess from the outside, the moment of reckoning has come and in the words of that old Seventies mantra - "if the ICC is not part of the solution, then it is part of the problem." By Thursday, we should know which it is.

THE JURY: THE ICC DELEGATES AT TODAY'S MEETING

Jagmohan Dalmiya - ICC president David Richards - ICC chief executive Malcolm Grey - ICC president-elect Denys Rogers - Chairman of Australian Board Lord MacLaurin - Chairman of England and Wales Board A S Muthiah - President of Indian Board Sir John Anderson - Chairman of New Zealand Board Yawar Saeed - Manager of Pakistan Board Siddarth Wettimuny - Sri Lanka representative Percy Sonn - Chairman of South African Board Patrick Rousseau - President of West Indies Board Peter Chingoka - President of Zimbabwe Board Jimmy Rayani - Chief executive of Kenyan Board Saber Chowdury - Bangladesh representative Jorgen Holmen - Denmark representative Ali Bacher - Chairman of ICC development committee Clyde Walcott - Chairman of ICC cricket committee Ehsan Moni - Chairman of ICC finance committee

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