Boards suspend umpires named in sting operation
The ICC and the cricket boards of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh have agreed not to appoint any of the umpires named in the sting operation, recently conducted by India TV, for domestic or international matches pending the outcome of the investigations alleging that the umpires had agreed to accept money to give decisions favouring certain players.
The sting named six umpires: Nadir Shah (Bangladesh), Nadeem Ghauri and Anis Siddiqui (Pakistan), and Sagara Gallage, Maurice Winston Zilwa and Gamini Dissanayake (Sri Lanka). All have, in various media interviews, denied their involvement in match-fixing.
In its statement on Wednesday, the ICC said that the umpires named were not contracted by them and so it was the responsibility of the respective cricket boards to conduct the investigations urgently.
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had confirmed on Tuesday that both boards had begun investigations into the allegations. The Bangladesh Cricket Board said it was taking the issue 'very seriously', adding that there would be an inquiry committee.
The ICC is known to have asked India TV to share the tapes of the undercover operation so that the tapes may be examined by its anti-corruption unit and also studied by member boards in order to understand the content of the sting operation and the context in which all statements were said to be made. The tapes seen on TV on Monday night established that the two umpires who had been linked with two World T20 practice matches, did not officiate in any capacity in those matches, either on or off the field.
In the sting, conducted through July and August, the reporters claimed to belong to a sports management company and promised the umpires officiating assignments in events of all kinds around the world, largely domestic Twenty20 leagues. The reporters, who worked undercover, carried out the sting mainly through interviews and conversations via Skype, an internet videophone service.
Suspending these umpires may show the outside world that "action" has been taken following the sting operation. Yet, when tackling corruption what cricket requires is not instant justice but wide-ranging attention to every competitive level that exists in the game. Whether it is in governing the game, scrutiny in enforcing its rules or ensuring that wages down the line are fair and viable.
Cricket's operating structure extends beyond players, support staff and officials. There are several layers to any cricket match and dozens of people without whom it would not be possible to stage a competitive game. They include umpires, curators, groundstaff, dressing-room attendants - in other words, the lowest-paid folk around a match. The illegal betting network must surely understand that these also happen to be the most vulnerable. When the betting mafia find doors closing shut at one level, they will merely move on to the next.
The ICC's anti-corruption unit is doing its business around international cricket as best it can within the limits of its powers. (Setting up its own undercover operatives won't look like a good idea when faced with a multi-million dollar entrapment lawsuit). Greater vigilance is, however, required at domestic levels from the home boards. If the cricket-playing world is getting richer, its increased finances are far better spent on its employees at all levels and in enforcing water-tight regulation.
If it appears ridiculous and paranoid to have anti-corruption training or staffers (well-paid again) around a three-day junior match, to believe that it is not needed these days is even more absurd. Cricket's entire institutional structure - international, domestic, junior, men and women - needs to ensure that there is no wriggle-room for anyone being tempted.
The mushrooming of domestic T20 leagues brings in not merely sponsors, spectators and TV revenue, but also a surging interest from the betting mafia. They will not stop trying to find new footholds in the game. Protecting cricket's integrity does not only involve reacting to TV stings every few months. It is now a 24/7 undertaking.