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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Match fixing update

The writer Mary Russell Mitford (1787–1855) wrote:

‘To think of playing cricket for hard cash! Money and gentility would ruin any pastime under the sun.’

The irony is that, at the time, not only was the game frequently played for money, but exactly the wrong sort of money – that of illegal gamblers out to rig the result.

It is generally considered that match fixing had died out by the end of the nineteenth century, but no readers will need reminding that match fixing in cricket is back in a disturbingly large way. First there were the Pakistani scandals in the 1990s, leading to a judicial inquiry, then the Hansie Cronje debacle of 2000, and now in more recent times we have gambling associated with the 20/20 tours. The journalist Ed Hawkins has written a very important book explaining the nature of all this skulduggery.

Since I wrote a blog on match fixing last week and spoke to Radio NZ, there have been some important developments:

- Brendon McCullum has confirmed he stands by the testimony he gave to the ICC, which was leaked to the media recently.

- The ECB has brought disciplinary proceedings against Lou Vincent and another player.

- Vincent has confirmed that he has made no plea bargain.

- Chris Cairns has come to London to speak to the police and ICC investigators.

There are three possible legal fora under which proceedings might be brought:

(i) The internal disciplinary regimes of the ICC or national authorities, as is under way with Vincent. The ECB banned Danish Kaneria under its own procedures, and Kaneria’s challenge to the High Court (under the Arbitration Act 1996) was dismissed. I intend to write a bit more about Kaneria’s case in the next week or so.

(ii) A player accused of match fixing might sue anyone who publishes the accusation, as Cairns did a few years ago when Lalit Modi accused him in a tweet. I have written about this case in detail in my forthcoming book (due at the end of June).

(iii) Criminal charges might be brought, as they were against Salman Butt and two bowlers earlier this century. I wrote a short account of this case in my first book.

I would reiterate the following:

- Chris Cairns is not just entitled to the presumption of innocence, he has not even been charged with anything. He has voluntarily come to London to provide his testimony.

- The ICC seems to have been sitting on some testimony for several years. This appears unacceptably dilatory, unless some proper reasons not publicly known at present come to light in due course. On that we must reserve judgement.

- The media are only doing their job in reporting allegations and leaks, and no-one can blame them for that. It is the ICC who is at fault, for not stopping the leaks in the first place. The leaks have (i) interfered with the right of the subject of them to a fair trial; (ii) brought the general competence of the ICC into question; and (iii) worst of all, possibly deterred players from putting themselves at risk by going to the authorities in the first place. As I have stressed elsewhere, players (especially the more junior ones) who are approached by match fixers will need to have full confidence that they can report things in private, or they will be too in fear of reprisals from the wrong-doers to risk it.

One can only hope the truth will out. I along with the rest of the general public cannot know who is telling the truth in all this at the moment. But that also means we as the general public cannot know the extent of the wrongdoing, and thus how many games we pay good money to watch or read about are tainted.

The stakes – to use an ironic term – could not be higher. There is much evidence that illegal gambling was the reason cricket became an organised, national sport in the first place. In a rather cruelly circuitous fashion, illegal gambling may yet become the reason it ceases to be so. Let us hope not.

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