Monday, November 07, 2011

Ban the men, can’t ban the menace

(Written for Sahara Time)

I’m fairly sure that absolutely nobody, anywhere, actually believed that Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were innocent. Indeed, despite their ill-advised ‘not guilty’ stances, the two were always up against it once Mohammad Amir and Mazhar Majeed pleaded guilty. It was not the Pakistan Cricket Board hearing their plea after all; it’s the Crown prosecution in London. The boys had no chance. And that’s what makes the story that much more different from past cases of fixing in cricket.

See, in the past, no one has ever been caught red-handed. In this case, unlike Tehelka back in 1999-2000, News of the World recorded a live incident of matches (or spots, as is the case) being fixed. It was all happening in England; in London, to be exact. It became a criminal case. Very different from earlier incidents where statements, which talked about incidents past, were recorded and then investigated. As a result, the case went out of the hands of the PCB or the ICC. Butt and Asif were tried as committers of a crime. And now, their next few years will be spent as criminals.

But on to more relevant matters (and without shedding a tear for the obviously guilty Butt), we need to figure out why the only two great exposes on cricket fixing have both been conducted by news organisations. Did it have to come to that? Doesn’t the ICC have something called the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit that is supposed to prevent corruption? Isn’t it a massive failure on the part of the ACSU that journalists have to do their job?

Well, the obvious answer to that will have to be ‘yes’. But it isn’t. Not quite. See, corruption, in some ways, is like terrorism. You can have the best systems in place to prevent it, but someone or something will always slip through the cracks. The International Olympic Committee, the biggest governing body in the world of sport, has been trying to prevent doping in sport for heaven-knows-how-long. Has it succeeded? No. In fact, nations have put in place systems that are carrying out scientific research every single day to find newer and newer performance-enhancing substances and substances that can mask their presence in the human body. Hasn’t baseball and basketball in America, two of the most professionally-run sports in the world, had to deal with drug use and fixing? Aren’t there big stories about fixing in world football? Or world tennis?

As an aside, do we honestly believe that India as a nation is not trying to prevent terror activities in India?

Cheats, and kamikaze kids, will always exist, and always slip through the cracks. You can reduce the instances, but can’t weed it out completely.

But at the same time, can the ICC really hide behind the cloak of helplessness? Can it continue to justify its incredibly naive policy of asking players to report approaches by bookmakers? I don’t think so. Look at the IPL (which has recently been elevated to the status of ‘List A’ cricket); the BCCI pushed away the ICC ACSU from the IPL by saying that the IPL is an Indian domestic league. Not acceptable. But it was to the ICC. After all, what the BCCI wants, the BCCI gets. So if the BCCI wants corruption to take place in Indian ‘domestic’ cricket, the ICC, or anyone else for that matter, can go take a hike.

What that proves, all over again, is the complete toothlessness of the ICC. So yes, the ICC has a tough, almost impossible job in its hands. And it’s made doubly tough by the ICC bending over backwards to accommodate the BCCI, even if it’s Sharad Pawar in charge.

Coming back to the latest episode, Sarfaraz Nawaz has called for the ICC to be taken to task for “allowing fixing to flourish”, saying that he plans to file a case against the ICC. While former ICC President Ehsan Mani (a Pakistani) says “An example should be made of Butt and Asif for other cricketers”. And Lalit Modi, himself no paragon of virtue, says there should be no forgiveness for people like Butt and Asif.

Sure, but Butt and Asif’s guilt is only a third of the actual truth. One of the other thirds is that the powers-that-be are as culpable as the players. The PCB has told its cricketers over the years that crimes can easily be treated as aberrations. That a ‘life ban’ only means a ban till someone in the PCB decides it’s time to overturn it. While the final third is that even as these Pakistan cricketers serve their sentences, a pile of other cricketers will be sitting away smirking at their good fortune. Yes, three players can’t be the whole lot. There were others. There must have been others. Like Farokh Engineer told me, “I want Salman and Asif to go to jail, but I regret that so many others, who have also filled their pockets in the same way, are sitting pretty”.

Much as we want, fixing cannot be wished away. Nor can the use of drugs in sport. As always, some people will get caught, but many more will go scot-free. That’s the reality. We can try. The ICC can show some intent and will. As can the IOC and FIFA. The menace will remain, as pessimistic as it may sound.