England news January 12, 2012

Cricketers offered match-fixing amnesty

England's professional cricketers have been offered an amnesty to report match-fixing approaches until the end of April in the wake of the Mervyn Westfield corruption trial.

The decision was made at an ECB management board meeting at Lord's on Thursday within hours of Westfield pleading guilty to accepting £6000 from an unnamed contact involved in an illegal gambling scam.

An ECB statement said: "The board has determined that a reporting window through to April 30, 2012 should be offered to players and officials to report approaches or information related to corrupt activities.

"It is an offence under ECB regulations not to report such activity and the board wished to provide an open opportunity for players or officials who may not have previously reported such activity to be offered the opportunity to furnish information without the threat of sanction concerning a prior failure to report such activity."

Chris Watts, the ECB's information manager, said: "Information is critical in addressing the threat posed by corruption in sport. The decision of the board to provide a window for retrospective reporting of alleged approaches will greatly assist the access unit in compiling a more complete picture of the source and focus of approaches which may have taken place in the past.

"Individuals may not have thought these approaches were worthy of reporting at the time," said Watts. "And prior to the decision of the board may have been concerned that the fact they did not report such activity may have put them at risk of disciplinary action."

Westfield's conviction on corruption charges will send a "useful message" to all English players, claims Angus Porter, the chief executive of the players' union, the Professional Cricketers' Association. He believes the case involving the former Essex seamer will "act as a signal to all players."

"This is a day of mixed emotions," said Porter. "While it couldn't be described as a good day for cricket, it is encouraging that action has been taken and that wrong-doing has been uncovered. My overwhelming reaction is that I'm pleased he decided to plead guilty.

"I don't think you can take the game of cricket away from the rest of his life. Use him as an example to make sure that other cricketers don't make the same mistake he did."
Nasser Hussain

"The other lesson we must take from this is that there is no room for complacency. The world has moved on since 2009 and the game has invested in player education. We went round all the counties in the pre-season period of 2010 and spoke to every county squad. All the players now know of their obligations and know the ways in which they might be persuaded to get involved in such practises."

The hot-line set-up for players to report any approaches has, according to Porter, seen very little activity, but he believes that the PCA may have played a key role in uncovering Westfield's actions.

While a number of Westfield's team-mates expressed some concerns at the time of the game in question, in September 2009, Porter believes it was the PCA's involvement in 2010 that provided the catalyst to those misgivings being reported to the proper authorities.

"We're not seeing a lot of activity on the hot-line. We've had less than a handful of calls. But it's important to remember that players can report any concerns in a number of different ways. They could, for example, report any concerns to their county in the first instance.

"I'm reluctant to overplay the role of the PCA in this, but yes, that is how I understand how this unfolded. It would seem that our reminders were issued in a timely way and triggered this response."

Porter described any potential comeback by Westfield as "unlikely".

"We hope that this sends a strong message to professional sportsmen and women around the country," said detective sergeant Paul Lopez of Essex Police, which conducted the investigation. "If they think that match-fixing is not a crime then they need to think again."

Angus Fraser has a perspective on the dangers of sports-fixing, as a player for England and Middlesex, a cricket journalist and now as Middlesex's managing director of cricket. "The ECB has been pretty vigilant," said Fraser. "I am sure that the players are as armed as possible against these incidents should they come along. There are always temptations and there always will be."

Ronnie Irani, who captained Westfield at Essex, expressed his sadness. "He was special," Irani told Sky Sports. "He really was. His parents will be gutted. It's a sad day for him, his family, for Essex and for the game."

Nasser Hussain, the former England and Essex captain, called for "an appropriate ban" and for Westfield to be used prominently in an education process for young professional cricketers.

"We have to be tough on spot-fixers to send a message to future generations," Hussain told Sky Sports. "He was a 21-year-old and he made a mistake. I don't think you can take the game of cricket away from the rest of his life. Use him as an example, make a video or something, to make sure that other cricketers don't make the same mistake he did."

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