Long odds against a quick ICC delivery

The ICC can hardly claim to be ignorant that players were exposed to temptation. And if they knew it, why did they make no attempts to stop it?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Opportunities for a man to sell his soul have never been as plentiful as they are nowadays and you don't even have to be a politician or a banker to take advantage of the high prices available; anyone in a position to influence the movement of a lump of money from one pocket to another can expect to be led into temptation.

We are constantly reminded of the greed of the mighty and it is a strange aspect of our attitude that when a sportsman is lured towards this activity we react with far more indignation than if any other profession is involved. I have long maintained that sport is burdened with a grotesque amount of moral responsiblity for setting an example. There are some bishops who do not feel obliged to behave with as much rectitude as sportsmen are supposed to exhibit.

This is not an attempt to excuse whatever Hansie Cronje has been up to. Far from it. With merely his admission that he took money to assist a bookmaker he has delivered a mortal blow to the fanciful idea that sportsmen, and cricketers in particular, are one righteous step removed from the manured throng of everyday life. Wild, yes, and sometimes wicked; but never crooked, surely.

As the allegations against Cronje accumulated, the scene was not unlike a burglar's pockets being slowly emptied as the world watched with the sort of fascination we reserve for heavy falls from grace. We can now prepare ourselves for a prolonged slow whirr of the cogs of sporting justice.

We would do well, however, not to let Cronje, and any accomplices who may get rounded up, take the entire blame. Sport has never given the devil so much assistance in his recruitment of sinners, so some fault-sharing mitigation may be allowable.

The International Cricket Council, the governing body of the game, are not dissimilar from several others in the distance they manage to put between themselves and reality. This is a tangent not worth travelling along, apart from mentioning last week's parallel presence of Uefa's dithering over the return match between Leeds and Galatasaray.

At least Uefa came to the right decision eventually. The ICC seem incapable of coming to terms with this mess even in its wake, so we should not be surprised at their hopeless inaction in the face of a known enemy. They must have been aware for some years of the threat posed by illegal gambling in the subcontinent. The warnings could not have been clearer following the 1998 Pakistan inquiry into match-fixing allegations.

In 1994 the Australians Shane Warne, Mark Waugh and Tim May were involved in charges that Pakistan's Salim Malik offered them bribes to throw matches. They were uproven, but four years later Warne and Waugh were back in the dock for taking money from a bookie for information about weather and pitch conditions on their tour of Sri Lanka. The Australian Cricket Board fined them but kept it quiet for two years, which was an extraordinary act considering the implications for the game as a whole.

Cricket's casual attitude to gambling, which was rife in its early years, was exposed in 1981. England were playing Australia at Headingley and were in such a hopeless position that bookmakers offered 500-1 against them winning. Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee couldn't resist the odds, despite the fact they were playing for the opposition. Thanks to Ian Botham's miracle 149, England did the impossible and Messrs Marsh and Lillee won their money. Since it was clear that neither had connived at the result, they escaped dire punishment, which has to go down as a foolishly lenient decision. Betting on yourself to lose can't be accepted under any circumstances.

Only last week, the Football Association fined Steve Claridge £900 for betting on his side to win, which you would have thought was touching example of faith rather than an doubtful act. But once a sport has a policy on gambling, it has to stick to it.

The Jockey Club, who already ban jockeys from betting, may extend the ban to trainers following the revelation that Ted Walsh, trainer of last weekend's Grand National winner, Papillon, had a bet on the horse at 40-1 on the day before the race. As it happens,Papillon's price dropped to 10-1 by the start of the race, so his confidence did not go unrecognised.

There is no suggestion of any impropriety concerning Walsh's bet, many trainers bet regularly, but the matter is being referred to the Government's gambling review group. It is not the actual betting that raises concern but the relationships that could develop between a trainer and a bookmaker.

If other sports are as fastidious as this about gambling, why has cricket felt itself to be above such mundane matters? Since Cronje's confession, players have been queueing to tell of occasions when they were offered bribes. The ICC can hardly claim to have been ignorant of the fact that players were being exposed to this temptation. And if they knew it, why did they make no apparent attempts to stop it? Not an easy task, admittedly, but a general alert to players, police, press and public would have been a start.

Not only did they neglect to do that, they actually increased the opportunities for abuse by allowing a profileration of one-day internationals, mainly meaningless, upon which illegal betting thrives. There were a total of 159 one-dayers last year and there have been 60 already this year.

This may help cricket's income but it also introduces a level at which the winning priority is slightly diluted in comparison to Tests. Not that winning or losing is the prime point of the betting activity that has scandalised cricket. Cronje is adamant he did nothing to affect the outcome of a game, but there are so many ancillary bets available, ranging from individual performances to run rate, that you don't have to lose the match to influence the winning and losing of large amounts of money.

Cricket is not the only sport vulnerable in this direction and Asia is not the only place where betting is popular, but our bookmakers have antennae sensitive enough to pick up any unusual betting patterns - over-sensitive at times - and I have often suggested that individual sports should have certain bets outlawed to reduce temptation.

But the bookmakers involved in subcontinent cricket are not legal to start with, so there are no safeguards from that direction. Cricket also has to labour under the regrettable flaw that the high profiles of the game's stars, not to mention their skills, are unmatched by towering remuneration. Comfortably off they may become, but they are not to be numbered among the millionaires of more lucrative sporting callings.

If a cricketer can convince himself that the money he is accepting does no real damage to his team or the game, then he is likely to be easier prey to the tempting wad than other sportsmen.

The vast sums paid to top players mean that football can remain fairly sanguine about the risks of corruption. Tennis stars play tournaments in different places every week, but the prize money on offer to them would be stiff competition for the heftiest satchel. And no golfer is going to throw the US Masters, or any other tournament come to that.

You don't have to think hard to realise how vulnerable cricket has been but, despite all the shrieking signs, the thought does not appear to have occupied the game's rulers seriously.

Whatever happens to the Cronje case, the ICC must move now to protect the game from further misuse. They could start by listening to Lord MacLaurin's call for an immediate world summit. This is a serious matter for more than Hansie Cronje.

Comments