The fight to eradicate cricket cheats
"Our society is full of devils, and you find these devils in football." – Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa
"So long as human greed exists then corruption in any sphere of society, including sport, is going to be a possibility and it is therefore vital we remain vigilant." – Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the ICC
Whatever way you look at it, the situation appears dire. As long as international sport is played, somebody somewhere will try to make a seedy buck off of it by underhand means.
So why even bother trying to suppress it?
"Anything that tarnishes the image of the game is simply not acceptable because the integrity of the game is at stake," Lorgat told The National.
"We will stop at nothing to make sure cricket is protected against those who seek to damage it in this way."
This summer marked the 10-year anniversary of cricket's first match-fixing purge. In its wake, the International Cricket Council (ICC ) formed an Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) to flush out the fixers from the sport.
A decade later almost to the month, the menace returned with a vengeance, as a new term - "spot-fixing" - entered the game's wider consciousness for the first time. Along with the scandal of Pakistan's summer tour of England came charges that the ICC was not doing its job.
Criticism abounded that it was the British tabloid News of the World, by way of their investigation into three players in the Pakistan side, who had uncovered the malevolent forces still at work in the game, rather than the expensive unit set up with the sole remit to police such ills.
"[The ACSU] has operatives working all over the world and costs the game millions," Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, wrote in his column in the The Daily Telegraph. "But a British newspaper story has blown it open. It is embarrassing."
Shane Watson, the Australian opening batsman who is known to have reported suspicious activity to the ICC in the past, agreed. "The [ACSU] is not really working," he was quoted as saying.
But Lorgat strongly refutes the idea the unit is ineffectual.
"We have perhaps the most proactive anti-corruption unit of any sport but we can only do what the law allows us to do and what our members mandate us to do," he said. "We don't have powers to arrest, we cannot conduct sting operations, we can't seize possessions and we can't get a warrant to search players or premises."
In some ways, the ACSU are in a no-win situation.
Lorgat recently revealed that new, proactive methods are set to be rolled out in order to catch perpetrators. But when speculation suggested it could involve players being entrapped by undercover agents, players' unions around the world immediately condemned the idea.
Still, the new directives will get their first airing in the current series between Pakistan and South Africa in the UAE.
"Because of what happened in London, there are a few more things happening this time to protect the teams from unscrupulous agents and from people coming to knock on their doors," said a senior figure in the security team co-ordinating the Dubai leg of the series.
The ACSU's mandate focuses heavily on prevention. Its modus operandi centres on an education programme which all international cricketers undertake.
The process informs the players of ways in which potential corruptors may seek to compromise them, as well as the penalties they would face for accepting inducements to fix any part of a match.
"If any player is guilty of corruption we will not hesitate to take severe action," Lorgat said. "Don't underestimate the success we have enjoyed through our awareness and prevention initiatives." Players could never plead ignorance. Among the measures taken:
v One of five regional representatives of the ACSU is present at every international series which is played, and these agents are well known to the players.
v Signs displaying anti-corruption messages are ubiquitous in the interiors of all international cricket grounds today.
v A hotline number, which players are encouraged to call if they receive suspicious approaches, is prominently displayed. According to Lorgat, the number is "well used to pass on information to the ACSU".
v Strict access control is enforced around the players' and match officials' areas before, during and after matches. All accreditation for access to these areas is vetted by the ACSU, which has been headed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, a prominent former policeman in the UK, since Lord Paul Condon retired in June.
v Use of all communication devices such as mobile phones and internet facility is barred within the dressing room areas from the time of the toss of the coin to the end of play. The idea is to keep players cocooned from any outside influence during play.
The players are trusted to follow these guidelines of their own volition – there is no attempt to block mobile phone coverage to the changing rooms, for example. Mobiles work in the cavernous dressing rooms of the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
During the acrimonious series between Pakistan and England this summer, The Sunday Telegraph reported that one of the Pakistan players had hidden his phone in his batting helmet to avoid detection.
Therein lies the problem. As Adam Gilchrist, the celebrated former Australian wicketkeeper said during a trip to Dubai last week: "It doesn't matter if you have Interpol, Scotland Yard, the Australia Federal Police and an anti-corruption unit. There is only one group of people who can control it and that is the playing group."
The ICC will hear the case against Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer, Pakistan's alleged spot-fixers in the summer series against England, later this week.
If there is one saving grace to come out of their plight, it is that now there are no longer any excuses, according to Lorgat.
"A major part of the ACSU's work is in the form of education and awareness programmes in order to prevent corruption, so a positive to come out of the recent publicity is that, coupled with the education they receive, no player can claim ignorance," he said.
The Pakistan tour party in the UAE have echoed that view. "We are reminding [the players] again and again that we have to do our best to make sure nothing goes wrong and that players have understood this message," Intikhab Alam, the team manager, said on the eve of the series against South Africa.
"I am sure that over the passage of time things will get better and we are really looking forward to that."
The recent revelations in football, where a variety of executives across the world have been implicated in vote-rigging controversies, suggests the ICC is not alone in battling corruption.
"We wouldn't presume to speak for other sports but it's clear the issue of corruption is not unique to cricket," Lorgat said. "Some sports have taken measures to combat it, others have not. In the past 10 years or so, cricket has certainly taken a lead in this area ... many other sports are now coming to us for advice on how best to deal with the issue.
"The ACSU in its current form is ideally placed to fight the battle against corruption. And what is more, it's winning that fight."
The ACSU was created in 2000 in the wake of a previous scandal. Its mandate: “To assist the ICC Code of Conduct Commission and the members of ICC in the eradication of conduct of a corrupt nature prejudicial to the interests of the game of cricket; and to provide a professional, permanent and secure infrastructure to act as a long-term deterrent to conduct of a corrupt nature prejudicial to the interests of the game of cricket.”
Sir Ronnie Flanagan took over the role from Lord Paul Condon this summer, just three weeks before the spot-fixing scandal broke at Lord’s. He was a strategic adviser to the Abu Dhabi Police force before joining the ICC.
Regional security managers
These managers attend each international series to ensure the ACSU’s policies are followed.
Arrie De Beer – South Africa and Zimbabwe
John Rhodes – Australia and New Zealand
Ronald Hope – England and West Indies
Dharamveer Singh Yadav – India and Sri Lanka
Hassan Raza – Pakistan and Bangladesh
Ravi Sawani also serves as general manager of the ACSU. He was formerly the joint-director of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, and he oversaw the investigation into corruption among Indian players during the 2000 fixing scandal. He was the joint-director of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, and he oversaw the investigation into corruption among Indian players during the 2000 fixing scandal.
Published: October 28, 2010 04:00 AM