The integrity of sport has been dealt a heavy blow

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The scale of match-fixing in cricket exposed by the Indian investigation of the claims made by Makesh Gupta, bookmaker and whistle-blower, is astonishing. Not just obscure bit players, but the captains or former captains of nearly every team in Test cricket have been implicated in passing information to bookmakers or gamblers.

The scale of match-fixing in cricket exposed by the Indian investigation of the claims made by Makesh Gupta, bookmaker and whistle-blower, is astonishing. Not just obscure bit players, but the captains or former captains of nearly every team in Test cricket have been implicated in passing information to bookmakers or gamblers.

The integrity of the game, so accepted that it is a figure of speech, has been dealt a heavy blow. The revelations have undermined the enjoyment of a generation of cricket fans. Every unexpected result, each thrilling comeback against impossible odds, now looks suspect.

The appointment of Sir Paul Condon, the former policeman, as the head of world cricket's anti-corruption unit was a welcome move. Any player now knows perfectly well that it is not a good idea, to put it mildly, to discuss subjects such as the weather with shady characters who introduce themselves merely as "John".

Gambling has always posed a threat to the integrity of professional sport, but it was assumed that sportsmanship alone was sufficient defence. Until the Football Association tightened the rules three years ago, and until the Hanse Cronje affair in cricket, players and managers would often chat informally to bookmakers about relatively innocent matters that were more or less in the public domain, such as the state of pitches or injuries, and most would have been horrified by the offer of money for such intelligence. Gentlemanly values can no longer be relied on. All professional sports need to review their rules and their enforcement machinery. In English cricket, Lord MacLaurin needs to follow his tough talk - which went suddenly soft when the shadow of suspicion fell on England's former captain - with tough action.

It will never be possible absolutely to prevent players and managers betting on - or worse, against - their own teams. But they should know that if they are found to have done so the sanctions will be extreme. The FA is right to ban professional footballers from betting not just on their own team but on football. Other sports, and indeed other fields of human endeavour, should follow that lead. First to the gallows should be those shameless MPs who placed bets on the Speaker's election and then cast votes for their own financial gain.

No one can want cricket or football to go the grisly way of wrestling. The audience for honest professional sport will always be greater than that for amateur dramatics.

Comments