November 1, 2011

A harsh lesson for Pakistan to learn

The conviction of Butt and Asif is welcome, but the fight against corruption in cricket has just begun

Predictably the conviction of Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif on cricket corruption charges is producing hurt, bitterness, resentment and embarrassment in Pakistan. Former cricketers have appeared on television saying it is all a matter of shame. Fans are angry Pakistani stars have been ensnared by the British legal and penal system.

These are natural emotions provoked by unprecedented events, but sometimes you have to chop off a gangrenous limb to save a life. Losing the limb is painful, even debilitating. Yet it must be done for survival. Pakistan's convicted spot-fixers represent the gangrene that had been eroding the fabric of Pakistan's game. It hardly seems a coincidence that, following their exit from the team, Pakistan's fortunes on the field have improved.

Just as the salvaged patient and his family need to be grateful to the surgeon who performs the amputation, Pakistan cricket and those who love it owe a debt of gratitude to the News of the World and its clever investigative team. Were it not for this now-defunct tabloid's brilliant sting, we would still be in denial.

Over the years, several other cricketing names have been implicated in the treacherous schemes of rigged cricket outcomes, but prior to today nothing had been proven in this manner. South Africa captain Hansie Cronje's being convicted resulted from a confession, not prosecution. By far the most important reason why Butt and Asif are now facing prison terms is the penetrating quality of the media exposé that brought them down. Pakistani fans who are upset that their compatriots have been specifically targeted should understand that ultimately Butt and Asif fell victim to the weight of the evidence against them, not to any kind of national or other form of discrimination.

Corruption is notoriously difficult to establish. At one level this means that whatever is proven in a court of law, like today, represents the tip of the iceberg. Judging from the copious amounts of hearsay and innuendo related to match-fixing and spot-fixing that cricket followers have experienced in recent years, it could be a very large iceberg indeed. They may be the only ones who have been caught, but it is likely Butt and Asif are not the only ones involved, and this is surely not the only instance.

A major benefit of this guilty verdict is its value as a deterrent for would-be fixers. Butt and Asif are crooks on a grand scale, and must be sentenced and stigmatised accordingly. Granted they are not murderers or violent criminals, but they heartlessly trampled the innocent expectations of a hopeful nation. That is a close second.

The fight against corruption in cricket is far from over. In fact - with due respect to the ICC's ACSU and other related efforts to date - it has quite possibly just begun. Implications of the verdict against Butt and Asif are multiple and far-reaching, starting with the paradigm shift that corruption in cricket is no longer just a conspiracy theory. Take a moment to let that sink in. We have cherished cricket as a gentleman's game and revered it as a metaphor for morality. It is neither. Yet berating cricket as a sport would be the equivalent of blaming the victim of a rape. The fault lies with corrupt players and the corrupt bookies who entice, seduce and mislead them.

It is fortunate that the dynamics of the situation have taken the matter out of Pakistan's hands. Pakistani Test cricketers are about to go to jail in a foreign country for something they did on the field of play. This is not something you can brush under the carpet

Significantly this verdict provides an opening into the demand side of spot-fixing's supply-demand equation. So far all the anti-corruption hoopla from cricket administrators has focused on the dishonest players who provide the spot-fixing services. The crooked gamblers and shady punters who have created such an overwhelming demand for these services have been left untouched. The ICC and its member cricket boards now have an ideal opportunity to expand investigative probes into this murky betting underworld. They will have at their disposal powerful global entities such as Interpol, as well as local law enforcement agencies in all the Test-playing nations. At the core of rigged cricket betting is an engine of organised crime. It must be searched out wherever it exists, and it must be killed. And safeguards must be put in place that provide the game with enduring protection from this evil. A good deal has already been done in this regard, but Butt's and Asif's guilt reveals that it has not been enough.

Pakistan cricket has proved itself to be resilient before, and in all likelihood will do so yet again. Since the forfeited Oval Test of 2006, this team has suffered doping scandals, petty administrators, a coach found inexplicably dead in his hotel room, terrorism against a visiting team, and - for the foreseeable future - inability to play at home. The team's upswing following last year's infamous Lord's Test, when the spot-fixing disgrace initially broke, suggests it has moved on.

This is a welcome sign, but it comes with a critical caveat: nothing is to be gained by moving on unless there are lessons learned. In a sense it is fortunate that the dynamics of the situation have taken the matter out of Pakistan's hands. Pakistani Test cricketers are about to go to jail in a foreign country for something they did on the field of play. This is not something you can brush under the carpet. It is a lesson that will be learned, even if forcibly. Circumstances leave little choice.

Apart from Butt and Asif, other Pakistan players have been named. None of them is currently in the team. Depending on the continuing fallout of this ongoing crisis, they could remain sitting out for a long time, perhaps forever. Pakistan cricket is lying with its underbelly bared in the blinding glare of spectator attention and media spotlight. Forget actual wrong-doing, this team cannot risk even the remote perception of wrong-doing. That, if nothing else, promises to keep tricky behaviour in check. That can only be good news for Pakistan cricket and its fans.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • grace on November 4, 2011, 10:06 GMT

    @blade_pakkiri: Exactly! And the corruption would have gone on and on. We wonder why there is so much crime in Pakistan. Because criminals are sheltered here. Kudos to the English for bringing them to justice. Should have got harsher terms, though. Not sure if1 or 2 years is enough of a deterrent. 19-20 year-olds will still have a career, after they serve a year or two, in some t20 league.

  • raheel on November 3, 2011, 18:32 GMT

    Hello All,

    As a long standing cricket fan and moreover a long standing fan of the unpredictability of Pakistan cricket, the sentences passed upon Butt and Asif, were harsh but a reflection of how such behaviour cannot be tolerated anymore by society at large. A reasonable article by Saad but to suggest that all Pakistan cricketers are tainted by this affair is a particularly unhelpful stance. Pakistan cricket needs support not morons such as Vaughan et al making uneducated, ill-informed and highly moralising statments when little account is given for extenutating circumstances. Those circumstances revolve around the cultural element to this matter that many have forgotten. It wasnt that long ago that both Geoff Lawson and Imran Khan stated in very informative pieces that when a young lad as Amir are asked to partake in nefarious activities that will/may help their village in Pakistan, what does an relatively underpaid (compared to cricketers in Eng/Aus) do??

  • Enamul on November 3, 2011, 17:54 GMT

    A New WORLD RECORD set by pakistan.

  • Rocky on November 3, 2011, 17:36 GMT

    Hey Sharuk Khan, you very much wanted Pakistan Players in IPL right. Why? To bring corruption to IPL? Why you always support Pakistan? Because you are actually a Pakistani? You born and bought up here, you became famus because of Indians but Pher bhi dil hey Hindustani?

  • Rajagopal on November 3, 2011, 13:05 GMT

    These guys made a mistake by flying to the UK to stand trial. They were already banned by the ICC. So why would they risk imprisonment and stand trial. They should have just refused to travel and refused to testify. In Pakistan they wouldn't have faced trial. Now they run the risk of jail terms.

  • IFTIKHAR on November 3, 2011, 12:21 GMT

    This is the most shameful day in Pakistan's Cricketing history.These three have disgraced Pakistan and do not deserve any sympathy.Pakistan cricket will survive but the image of the nation will remain tarnished for many years.

  • Dummy4 on November 3, 2011, 11:13 GMT

    Eventhough i feel bad for the players i can't help but think that this is justice. They cheated and they are goin to have to be doing their time, sad but true. Good Luck Pakistan, without these 3 players, you will need it.

  • Dummy4 on November 3, 2011, 10:33 GMT

    Why Pakistan.... it just that 3 players.. Pakistan always served Cricket sincerely .. 3 players corrupted doesnt mean that All Pakistan is Involved .. Very poor Article..

  • Dummy4 on November 3, 2011, 3:14 GMT

    I would be devastated if it were my own heros going to jail, BUT I would be equally apalled if they cheated, and made idiots of millions of fans who passionately follow the game, whether paying to watch or not.

    We don't need cheats parading as role models for our kids. And Pakistan could certainly do with some proper role models for their nation, and the people of Pakistan would do well to realize that and do something about it.

  • Dummy4 on November 3, 2011, 2:44 GMT

    Agree with the general consensus of the previous posts. Not too sure about the article's suggestion to concentrate on erradicating the demand side of the match fixing equation. Though I completely support taking steps to crack down on bookies and those who fuel the fire of spot and match fixing demand, it would be a highly impractical endeavour to put too much effort into these types of activities. The task would be tedious, bookies too widespread, and a mess in terms of balancing international legal red tape. The best, most effective way of preventing spot-fixing and like activites is to focus on the supply side, and impose the maximum penalty possible on the players and administrators who choose to engage in them. Put a high enough price on it and the vast majority of players will not entertain the idea - then, no matter how many bookies or organised crime syndicates you have, it won't make a difference.

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