> The spotlight shines brightly on the world of cricket, with snooker also in the docks

Is this man corrupt?

Wednesday 22nd September saw England win the 5th one day international against Pakistan at the Rose Bowl to clinch a 3-2 victory in one of the most controversial series of the modern era.

The win was set against a backdrop of the spot-fixing scandal, accusation and counter-accusations of bungs and bribes which has left the sport, coaches and players in complete disarray

What remained of the Pakistan team flew home to Lahore with a stern warning from ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat, who has intimated that if the charges of match fixing against captain Salman Butt, bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif are found to be true of they will be banned for life. The controversy centres around “spot betting”, which are markets on a small portion of a match.

In a News of The World expose, the players were accused of being paid by agent, Mazhar Majeed, to arrange for no balls…..The News of the World undercover team paid £150,000 for the information. While this has dominated the headlines since the story broke, it is merely the turn of cricket, and this Pakistan team, to be at the centre of tales of corruption and scandal that seem to rock sport all to often. So is corruption there because of the profile of the sport and the players? Or is it a by-product of the culture of a nation and the interconnection of its governing bodies?

Due to the inextricable links between Pakistani cricket and politics (even the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board is personally appointed by the president) this issue commanded the headline slot on a recent edition of Newsnight, with Jeremy Paxman ending his opening gambit by asking in his inimitably direct style; “What is wrong with Pakistan?”

In fact, so interwoven are the threads of politics, cricket and corruption in Pakistan that last year Pakistan Federal Minister Abdul Quayyum Khan Jatoi seemed to praise, if not at least defend corruption live on television, arguing “Corruption is our right…it has become a part of our culture…if a thousand people are engaging in corruption, the one who does not is only hurting himself.”

Pakistani journalist Nadira Naipaul added fuel to the flames of the debate, referring to corruption as “endemic…from the top to the bottom” going on to claim that “in Pakistan, if you are not corrupt, you are a loser.”

In an irresponsible outburst from someone who really should have known better, Pakistani Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ijaz Butt tried to deflect the attention from his players by accusing the England team (the same England team which agreed to host Pakistan‘s home games due to all their domestic problems) of taking bribes. As well as claiming the revelations against his side were the results of a conspiracy, he countered by alleging: “some English players have taken enormous amounts of money to lose the match”

The aftermath of Ijaz Butt’s allegations of match-fixing left some of Andrew Strauss’ side not wanting to finish the series. Graeme Swann, 31 was particularly outspoken about it. In an interview with The Sun, the bowler told of his feelings about competing in the fourth one day international after Butt’s tirade:

“I couldn’t wait for those games to end and get the hell out of there. It was a dreadful experience and one I never want to experience again. In fact, I didn’t want to play at all in the one-dayer on Monday. I won’t lie about that – I was dead against playing. And I wasn’t alone, plenty of other players had strong reservations.

“But Straussy, who has been brilliant throughout this episode, persuaded us the best thing we could do was get on with it as a team and make sure we won the series. He was proved to be right.”
Swann went on to give his full support to the England and Wales Cricket Board and Professional Cricketers’ Association in their decision to demand an apology from Butt over his allegations, confirming they will take legal action if one is not forthcoming.

“I want to say I agree 100% with the decision to send a letter on behalf of the England team demanding an apology… If we do not receive a satisfactory response, we will start legal proceedings,”
Butt has since retracted his comments, claiming he “never intended to question the behaviour and integrity of the England players nor the ECB nor to suggest that any of them were involved in any corrupt practices or in a conspiracy against Pakistan cricket” despite obviously doing so.
Cricket is of course not the only sport to have been tarnished with the corrupt brush, not even the only sport this summer to come under scrutiny. As also exposed by the News of the World, snooker’s 3-time world champion John Higgins was filmed (with agent Pat Mooney) negotiating a none-to-shabby 300,000 Euro fee for throwing 4 frames in 4 separate tournaments. Higgins was suspended as soon as the story broke, issuing in a statement an initial defence of his actions, claiming to be in fear for his safety:

“I didn’t know if this was the Russian mafia or who we were dealing with. At that stage I felt the best course of action was just to play along with these guys and get out of Russia”.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TB0_7f5ft4[/youtube]The subsequent investigation found Higgins innocent of any match-fixing, but was fined £75,000 and banned for 6months (backdated to when he was originally banned before the investigation) for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ by failing to report the advances of the News of the World mafia. Since then, Higgins has done his utmost to claw back any remnants of a reputation by, as well as posing in his saddest of sad faces for a Guardian exclusive, playing a number of sympathy cards including the ‘I’m a family man with young kiddies’ and ‘my dad’s got cancer and blames himself for what happened.’

So what is it about sport that attracts corruption? More to the point, what can be done about it?

“The different sides are not working together to solve the problem,” says Mark Davies, who sat on the UK Sports Betting Integrity Panel into corruption in sport. The fundamental problem is that not all betting is transparent and trackable. If every bet was placed in an auditable system we would not have a problem.”

“I understand that we are never going to get that, but we can get as close to that as possible.”

There are some (including licensed bookmakers) that argue for global legalisation as a solution. They say there are two types of gamblers on the black market: a gambler who cannot place a regular bet in his country, and those who are there to con and profit from corruption.

While this is an untested theory it would appear that this, or any other initiative would achieve little, other than further driving the corruption, which has always been in sport and many other walks of life, underground.