James Corrigan: Innocent until proven guilty is still in play
Sunday 19 September 2010
It was hard to disagree with Lee Westwood as he sat in Worksop Golf Club and lamented the wretched state of cricket. A keen follower, one of the few bright spots of his inactive August would be the chance to watch England versus Pakistan. Like many, Westwood now feels robbed of his leisure time.
"I've been on my sofa not knowing what's really happening and whether it's legitimate or not," said the golfer, still recuperating from a calf injury. "You start to second-guess anything and everything. I'm not sure I'll bother again."
How many more feel the same? It is a question which threatens to drive the ICC and the ECB to distraction as they try to find the right path in a situation that is rapidly taking on the "uncontrollable" mantle. In the wake of yesterday's reports that Friday's one-day international is the latest match to be under investigation for "spot-fixing", they came under increasing pressure to end this sham and send Pakistan home. Regardless of the scale of the blast of this negative fall-out, and the understandable anger, these were calls that the authorities would be right to resist.
It is a quaint old notion, but the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Until the police and ICC conclude their inquiries and bring the supposed fixers to trial, that is what they shall remain. Only when the verdict has been given, should the consequences be dire. Not before and not just as a result of the rather disgraceful burying-heads-in-the-sand mentality of the Pakistani authorities.
Yes, the evidence when presented in the black-and-white of newsprint appears damning, particularly when married with video playbacks. But there is a real danger of setting a precedent which could further jeopardise the future of the sport. Banish Pakistan now and risk having to do the same to future touring parties whenever the gambling suspicions re-emerge. The first whiff of a scam, legitimate or otherwise, would see the world demand similar action.
And the suspicions shall emerge, be sure of it. Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, the betting spectre does not confine its hauntings purely to Pakistan. Bizarrely it only commanded a few column inches last week, but a former Essex bowler was charged with conspiracy to defraud. Mervyn Westfield will be in court this week to face allegations that he deliberately bowled badly in a 40-over match last September.
Tell me, where was the clamour to call a premature end to Essex's campaign? Could it possibly be too convenient to believe this is simply a problem on the sub-continent?
This is the line the ICC must be careful of drawing as they ponder whether to take what would be the easy PR route. If anything about the wickedly complex and shady world of underground gambling in Asia is becoming apparent, it is that the tentacles of illegal bookmaking run far and wide.
Perhaps the ICC should abandon all professional cricket as they try to root out the ringleaders and cut off the bookies' supply lines. Perhaps they should announce a one-year moratorium to sort out a crisis which has already held up cricket's credibility to the most destructive ridicule.
That is what it may take to be certain of this cancer's elimination. What wouldn't achieve much and what could prove detrimental in the long run is to abandon the final two one-day internationals. What would be the point? Like Westwood, most of us will ignore them anyway.
Thirty years after Owen's death, boxing has only gone downhill
Thirty years ago tonight, Johnny Owen walked into a Los Angeles ring and so one of the most desperate British sporting tales began to unfold. Seven weeks later, the 24-year-old was pronounced dead, having failed to recover from the coma effected by being knocked out in the 12th round by Lupe Pintor.
As the tragedy played itself out, a lot was said and written about boxing and death as the world zeroed in on a frail, limp body in a hospital bed and wondered if this sport was really worth it.
The Merthyr Matchstick's painfully thin frame and his reserved personality only served to make those question marks flash more alarmingly.
Boxing was under siege but it staggered from its corner and threw what justifications it could muster. Inevitably, the promises soon followed, with the British Boxing Board of Control vowing to introduce every safety measure it could – without ruining their sport's identity – to protect these young men bleeding for others' entertainment. Three decades on it may be interesting to see where boxing is now. And for many of us, the scenario is utterly repellent.
While it may now be harder to die from injuries sustained in a licensed ring than ever before, the image of death apparently remains fair game when it comes to selling a few tickets. We can surmise this because David Haye has yet to be punished or even cautioned for saying last week that his upcoming bout with Audley Harrison will be "a public execution" and that his rival will end up "in an unconscious heap".
Indeed, even the media, that great outlet for "public" outrage, appeared more concerned with Haye's taunt that the fight "will be more one-sided than a gang-rape". No doubt that was a grotesque statement but it was also absurd. Boxers do not get raped in the ring, but they do die. And it was those allusions which truly should have been deemed shocking.
That they didn't is because we have become so used to the macabre boasts employed by these supposed sportsmen over the years. It has not just been Haye, he's merely the current most vocal proponent of a tactic that is depressingly considered of value in the pay-per-view hype machine. It's as if Johnny Owen or, more recently, Steve Watt and Bradley Stone did not happen.
Boxers should be banned for uttering bloody predictions, if not only to spare the sensitivities of the relatives who must shudder whenever a fool like Haye lets fly with his obscenities, then also to uphold its responsibilities as a genuine sport. But they aren't, they are allowed to get away with it, the occasional rap on the knuckles supposedly enough to stop them delivering these blows against civilised society.
Instead, the arms are thrown up more vehemently in disgust when a former fighter is caught using recreational drugs. Oh yes, everyone screams about "role models" then, and the BBBC duly vow to haul in Ricky Hatton.
What a curious set of moral values the sport operates, what a warped sense of duty it has to the children who are in danger of being corrupted by drugs but seemingly not by the glorification of beating a fellow human into "an unconscious heap". Thirty years on, boxing has only gone downhill. They couldn't even afford the poor boy his positive legacy.
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