Whitewash smells stronger than blood

Signing a declaration of honesty adds to the laughable impression of a body convinced that the guilty willconfess as long as they ask them nicely
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There are only two cleansing agents with which a sport usually removes the stain of a scandal; blood or whitewash. The first can be messy but it is easily obtainable by slitting the throats of one or two sacrificial miscreants.

There are only two cleansing agents with which a sport usually removes the stain of a scandal; blood or whitewash. The first can be messy but it is easily obtainable by slitting the throats of one or two sacrificial miscreants.

This is a method approved of by those authorities who feel that some sins can be satisfactorily expunged only by the taking ofsporting life, preferably someone else's. There was a time whenleaders might volunteer themselves for the honour of spilling the necessary but that went out with sportsmanship.

The effectiveness of the second substance is a much longer process and involves the application of several coats of Snowcem, with a long drying period between each coat, until the offending blot disappears. A third variation concerns both - threatening blood but storing up the white stuff to be slapped on when they think everyone has stopped paying attention.

Which path the International Cricket Council are taking is difficult to assess. The declaration on Thursday, after an emergency two-day meeting at Lord's, that a life ban awaits anyone found guilty of match-fixing was accompanied by a strict tariff of punishment ranging from two to five years for lesser offences like helping bookmakers with their enquiries.

Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board at whose insistence the ICC met quickly in the wake of the Hansie Cronje affair, left no doubt that he is a blood man. "Whoever is found guilty, we must make an example of them by kicking them out of the game for good."

Tough words; but unless they get on with it they will be issuing life bans to culprits who have already retired. The task of establishing guilt is to be handed to a learned man yet to be appointed. Indeed, listening to the ICCoutline the procedure for the anti-corruption investigation is like watching Geoff Boycott coming in to bat. It ain't going to be done at a slogger's pace.

What was disappointing was the lack of even a modest amount of self-censure by the ICC whose guardianship of the game's purity in this respect has been woefully inefficient. The only explanation of the absence of awareness of what has been going on under their noses is that they've been using whitewash on their spectacles.

And their suggestion that everyone concerned with the game should sign a declaration of honesty adds to the laughable impression of a body convinced that the guilty will confess as long as they ask them nicely.

Of more immediate effect than a long-winded legal inquiry would be a decision now to cut back on the number of one-day internationals that have provided the main platform for illegal betting on the sub-continent. Considerably improving the prize-money for the matches that are played would reduce the temptation for players to accept inducements. They might even mount a public relations campaign warning fans throughout the world that cricket betting might not only be bent but thatby indulging in it they could be harming the game they love.

It is ironic that the cricket authorities themselves might have been ultimately responsible for one of the most famous gambling incidents - the oft-quoted bet struck by the Australians Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee during a Test match against England at Headingley. Australia seemed in such an unassailable position that the bookmakers offered 500-1 against an England victory.

Marsh and Lillee couldn't resist the odds and backed their opponents to win. Thanks to Ian Botham's miraculous 149, England did win. Since it was clear that neither had connived, the Aussie pair were not punished, as they would most certainly be today. The one mitigating factor that is usually forgotten when the story is told is that if it wasn't for the cricket authorities allowing a betting shop to be opened on the premises, the players would never have known that those odds were on offer.

This casual approach to the presence of bookmakers has not been confined to cricket and the time is nigh for all sports to consider how they should cope with the flood of betting opportunities now available. As a keen punter myself, I shouldn't complain but I went to my pub to watch the closing frames of that exciting World Snooker Championship final last Monday night and was treated to a glimpse of what the future holds.

After every frame, bookmakers were telephoned for the latest odds which changed every minute and the bets were piling in. It wouldn't have occurred to me to do that from my own armchair but, no doubt, the odds will start appearing on the screen and with the internet invading our television screens it is possible to bet your life away without moving. In pubs there will be soon be terminals through which you can place a bet by swipe card.

Top players of various sports are going to be presented with a rapidly escalating number of temptations to have a bet. And if they are not involved in a particular event what's wrong with them doing so?

The answer is that when it comes to betting there can be no leeway whatsoever. It wouldn't be so bad if their expertise allowed them to make money from a little innocent gambling but, as we have seen in horseracing, inside knowledge is not to be trusted. If trainers and jockeys are going to get rich it is unlikely to be through betting. And the more they lose the more they become prey to unscrupulous bookmakers.

There was a time in Britain when footballers were banned from doing the pools. The thought of the organisational genius it would take to arrange for eight, and only eight draws, to occur on a Saturday afternoon makes the idea of a fiddle ludicrous. But the principle was sound. No punishment is too Draconian to keep the players away from the bookmakers. We poor punters are doomed but at least the players can be saved from themselves.

 

When it came to blood or whitewash, there was no doubting which the International Rugby Board decided upon when they considered the charges of fielding ineligible players against Wales and Scotland last week. They let off both with asevere reprimand and rightly so.

So many countries have sinned in this direction that it is impossible to make an example and the IRB's own slackness has made a sizeable contribution to the mess.

But one player is likely to suffer a bigger punishment than anyone and that is the full-back Shane Howarth. Howarth, like Brett Sinkinson, was convinced his grandfather came from Wales. I can sympathise. My family happens to be involved in creating a family tree and we can find no proof that either grandfather came from where we always thought they did. This is very much a shared experience.

Howarth's misfortune goes deeper than that. Although he can't prove his Welshness by the grandparent route, he would qualify by residency in 2002. But under a newly introduced rule he would still be debarred because he previously played for New Zealand. Many players of Howarth's age have played for more than one country and he had made the switch before the new rule came in.

Howarth will be 34 by 2002 but he still wants to play for Wales again. The WRU are going to fight his case and all Wales will support it if only the grounds that anyone who suffers this bloody weather with us for three years is our brother. Besides, Welshness is a state of mind.

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