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Does our society breed corrupt sportsmen?

If Butt and Co are to blame, so is the environment that produced them

Harsha Bhogle

November 3, 2011

Comments: 30 | Text size: A | A

Mohammad Amir is mobbed by the press at Lahore airport, Lahore, February 8, 2011
Mohammad Amir: his crimes, and those of Butt and Asif, evoke disproportionate sadness and disillusionment © AFP

At the heart of the pain that the spot-fixing revelation, and now judgement, has spawned is the assumption that we make about the moral fibre of sportspeople. As a purely financial matter, what the Pakistani players have been found guilty of wouldn't even be classified as a misdemeanour: maybe a father casting a stern look at a son; no more. Every cricketing country will have thrown up crimes of greater financial magnitude than this in the last 12 months, and India is particularly culpable. If a politician had done this, it wouldn't even have made it to the news.

But sport tugs at the heart in a way no other public activity can. And it does because sport, in its most pristine, blemishless form, is unscripted. People win and lose, they laugh and they cry, but they strive at all times. It is what makes sport noble. As front pages around the world grow increasingly morose, as even religion spews hatred and division, sport is meant to tell us what life should be like. It makes us park our faith at its altar. That is why what Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif have done evokes sadness and disillusionment in far greater measure than the financial implications of their act.

But sportsmen come from the same society as everyone else. Among sportsmen are the noble, the diligent and the caring, as there are the callous, the cheats and the criminals. As an actor is good at delivering lines, a painter at creating art out of an empty canvas, so too are sportsmen at kicking a ball or finely timing it through cover. We must expect no more. Indeed, I go through bouts of disillusionment myself. In football, players seem to cheat every minute, in cricket they try to hoodwink an umpire into giving a batsman out, in athletics they stuff themselves with performance enhancers.

In fairness, though, sportsmen attain fame far earlier than people do in almost any other profession. Raw youth is thrust onto a public stage and expected to be mature and discerning. Often, therefore, they get shaped by the air they breathe in their vicinity. It is an underestimated factor. One of the reasons you study at great institutions or aspire to work in great corporations is that you hope to acquire the values they stand for.

While deterrence is a likely outcome of the sentencing, there is also the possibility of greater cynicism; of people believing that an unusual moment in a game is not the result of ingenuity and skill but merely an act in a script

And so Pakistan cricket must ask itself what kind of air the youngsters in the team were breathing. Amir could not have been born corrupt, nor for that matter Butt. There must have been something in the environment that told them it was okay to do what they did. People often talk about the invincibility that power lulls you into believing in; on the subcontinent, young cricketers start believing that the adulation bestowed upon them will allow them to get away with anything. This is therefore as much the fault of Butt, Amir and Asif as it is of those who created the environment in which it was deemed acceptable to do the things these players did.

Hopefully this will be a deterrent, but the onus on creating that environment lies with those who administer cricket. You cannot have oddballs running cricket. Lung cancer is a deterrent but it doesn't seem to stop people, otherwise perfectly discerning, from smoking. The Madoffs do get caught and jailed for a lifetime but every day there is another Ponzi scheme being plotted and another sucker drawn in.

Administrations will have to be particularly diligent. In fact, a solid man at the head of the PCB could actually use this to turn Pakistan cricket around. I do not know enough about the structure there to know whether this is a possibility or just a silly statement, but I do know that the world can do with Pakistan cricket being strong and honest.

And so while deterrence is a likely outcome of the sentencing, there is also the possibility of greater cynicism; of people believing that an unusual moment in a game is not the result of ingenuity and skill but merely an act in a script. That is why we need strong administration.

In the past Australia, England and the West Indies have shown little inclination to investigate within, and there is a feeling in the game that Sri Lanka could have done more. India took some action but not through a judicial process. It would be fair to say that in our part of the world the current revelations would have been suffocated by bureaucratic and legal red tape. To that extent, cricket owes the English legal system a big thank you.

The easy way out is to attack the ICC. It is not much good doing that because the ICC doesn't have the power to send people to jail or to launch a sting of the kind the News of the World did. And they cannot take action until they have irrefutable evidence either. Like us they see games where something seems amiss, but that is not much to go by. However tame it might seem, education, and stringent punishment in the face of evidence, is about as far as they can go.

And I think it is important, too, to remember that there are people who have said no to dubious money. It is a star that those with character can wear proudly. Hopefully that list will always be bigger than that in the Hall of Shame.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by ashish514 on (November 7, 2011, 3:37 GMT)

@Dravid_Gravitas- I think he's talking less about the family or neighborhood culture and more about the sporting culture as well as national culture. What do you expect from the countries of the subcontinent where the rule makers have been found corrupt. We don't mind doing a little bit of hocus pocus as it has become a part of the culture. For example someone might naively say "what's the big deal?? They just bowled a couple of pre-empted no-balls. It's not that they lost the match because of that." This thinking has crept into the society and has to be countered.

Posted by SachinTen on (November 4, 2011, 15:41 GMT)

Harsha, some of you statements are like Sachins Straight , looks very simple ,attractive and effective. Incidentally I am few years Junior in University College of Technology,Osmaina University.I always enjoy your articles.Keep it up. Rao

Posted by PRR1963 on (November 4, 2011, 15:36 GMT)

"And I think it is important, too, to remember that there are people who have said no to dubious money. It is a star that those with character can wear proudly. Hopefully that list will always be bigger than that in the Hall of Shame." Harsha how many people can you claim to have said no to dubious money, can you name a few ... There are a lot of these people who take the dubious money in kind if not in cash. Money in any form is accepted as gifts and no one refuses a gift..

Posted by theskepticforallseasons on (November 4, 2011, 11:02 GMT)

It is not society. it is the administrators caught up in their petty political games. We need professionals to run the sport. And I think we have been to scared to call a spade a spade. That includes commentators and the media. Everybody seems so caught up in making money that they have forgotten that cricket is a sport not business. If you happen to make money off it, that is a bonus. http://theskepticsblog.blogspot.com/

Posted by teju666 on (November 4, 2011, 9:58 GMT)

Harsha, I think you stopped short of saying that what the 3 players did is the tip of the iceberg and is happening with the knowledge and support of the administration who also have their fingers in the pie. We Indians have seen that the people at the bottom offend when they know their superiors back it by having a share in it. So let us not just expect the management to be strong - we need to be sure they are clean.

Posted by tappee74 on (November 4, 2011, 9:10 GMT)

Greed is a human factor, if not controlled, leads to crimes of various stratas.When one gets absorbed into the torrent of materialism,basic laws from within are broken.AS we tresspass the forbidden,a new creation is born,a demon who sits on the receptacle of truth.Our perspective has now changed, self is lost in that which is illusive.The hurt is gradual and malignant,not only to one's self,but to all nature.We are in possession of our faculties and it is imperative that we take advantage of this sacred mechanism that leads to the path of freedom.That path is the truth, where the shadow of nobility comforts and protects from all contaminations.

Posted by manchesterexpress on (November 4, 2011, 8:34 GMT)

Good article reflecting the general malaise in society that corruption is a simple get out for people to make money. Point here is that CORRUPTION IS CORRUPTION wherever it takes place and for the most no one here in the West can claim to be guardians of a corruption free society...I mean look at the UK politicians caught out with expenses and having second homes etc...corruption is just as rife here than it is elsewhere, the difference is that it is more overt in the sub-continent than here. This doesnt make it right, far from it, but if someone asked you to pay them to "jump the queue" so to speak in order to get ahead what would you do? You could say no and maintain a higher moral stance but humans being what they are, even the most humble can sometimes feel "cutting corners" is the only way to get ahead. This is a very complex issue and it cannot be analysed on one or two points alone. I hope sport in general learns from darkest of moments.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (November 4, 2011, 7:33 GMT)

The compulsion to make big money comes from greed as Justice Cooke mentioned in his conviction order. That is absolutely true. When one sees others around one, rich and affluent, the desire to make money becomes too powerful. Almost everywhere in the world, there is so much of disparity between the haves and have nots that it seems not very wrong to justify to oneself that one is not doing any wrong by making quick money when one has the opportunity to do so. In cricket, it is the talent that causes players to look for more. In India, the fact that corruption has hit the high benchmark was known to everyone but till Anna Hazare focussed on it the people affected did not know that they could do something about it. As far as cricket is concerned, this verdict will have a big impact because those that are involved have been sent to jail. The stigma that accompanies is not something that can be washed away in a hurry. For generations the family will suffer because there was a cheat in it.

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor on (November 4, 2011, 4:52 GMT)

@Mufakir: If a personal decision is influenced by what you experience in your lifetime and the world around you, then all that can be said is that the people concerned are not well grounded in value systems that help them keep away from the wrong while sticking to the right. This may seem like a failing of society, but as adults it is for everybody to take ownership of their actions and not blame others and the environment. Not doing so is not adult behaviour. Nobody is singling out Pakistan. I don't see why Pakistani society should play victim already and go on the defensive, for the individual actions of their cricketers. If the malaise is widespread it is for Pakistani establishment (as also the others) to clean up in their respective countries.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (November 4, 2011, 4:34 GMT)

Harsha, I finished reading your article now. You seem to suggest that this incident is a result of the society they are coming from. I disagree there with you. Humans, while growing up, imbibe values into their inner consiousness or subconciousness from their micro-environment. What is a micro-environment? It is our immediate family. To suggest that the society is responsible for this incident is akin to saying that everybody is corrupt. You know that isn't true. These blokes developed certain values as part of their learning while growing up and they, with a fixed personality by now, have selected the corrupt people in the wider society around them to imitate. I wouldn't say more than that about the role of the society in determining our choices and, by extension, our actions. Though I respect your immense knowledge and lucid articulation, I must say that I'm disappointed at your lenience to call this act as something that just deserves a stern look from a father. I beg to differ.

Posted by stinga59 on (November 4, 2011, 2:14 GMT)

it's good to see that other share a common perspective. it's about 100 years since the infamous chicago blaksox. the motivation was then ans still is predominently greed. worse that often greed form people who are already better off than most of their fellows. to blame the environment is to suggest all our corrupt. possibly the case in some sports and some teams but every individual has the opprtunity to say no. I for one am sick of making excuses for criminals, they are bad people and should take responsibility for their own actions.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (November 4, 2011, 1:29 GMT)

Harsha, I didn't read your article but I wanted to answer your question (I mean the heading of your article). My answer is - No, not really.

Posted by Raki99 on (November 3, 2011, 18:39 GMT)

Not neccesarily True, that corruption in a socity can lead to corrupt sportsperson, There are many instances in USA Particularly in NBA where referess use to bet on the games they were part of and based on the bets they placed they called the games. So I think a person's greed is what motivates corruption. Also Our own azzaruddin, crojne they were just very greddy individuals And Our indian society had elected Azzar as a member of loksabha. So Whom is to be blamed for corruption. Us the Individual first then the country.

Posted by spence1324 on (November 3, 2011, 18:20 GMT)

Well said Hasrsha !But if you what to find corruption look no further than BCCI!

Posted by   on (November 3, 2011, 15:15 GMT)

Great Article,Hope the judgement serves as a lesson to future players that crime does not pay!

Posted by m_ilind on (November 3, 2011, 14:37 GMT)

Part of the problem seems to be the lack of discipline in Pak cricket! The players, coaches & the PCB are always involved in some controversy all the time.

Posted by   on (November 3, 2011, 14:05 GMT)

I may not be able to comment on the kind of impact the decision leaves upon the sport as a whole. But it will perhaps serve as a deterrent to many, specially the young talented cricketers who come from very humble backgrounds. The punishment may not completely eliminate the chances of corruption, but an absence of punishment will certainly do no good. It will encourage more.

I would also say that its not about the environment of Pakistan cricket only, its the whole cricketing environment that has resulted in the recent years. It is about the administrators, they are more responsible for what the game is today than those who play it.

The complete article was an interesting read. Harsha, you don't always bring varsha! You inspire :)

Posted by GirishGov on (November 3, 2011, 12:52 GMT)

The innocence of sport and the importance of innocence in current day life makes sport such an escape for all of us, is very aptly put - the reason why we create a beeline to it. Thank you Harsha for a wonderful article, loved it! Hope it remains "unscripted" and maintains it's glorious uncertainty - one of the reasons why we watch it!

Posted by Nampally on (November 3, 2011, 12:16 GMT)

Harsha, the answer to your headline question lies in the text - "If a Politician had done this, it wouldnt even have made the news". Politicians lead countries and are expected to set an example. Corruption is built into your life in formative years.If high ranking party president or PM or CM or even the regular Mininster is corrupt and go unpunished, this is the fodder for rest of the society to say it is norm to be corrupt.Of course our society breeds corruption in all forms and shapes.The Cricketers representing India are well paid - Gr A= $200K/PA, Gr.B = $100K & Gr.C = $50K.In addition they get at least 10 times as much money playing in IPL. Guys like Dhoni & Tendulkar earn $50 Million/PA! Old time greats like Hazare, Merchant, Umrigar, Gupte, etc earned pittance compared to these present contracts.They played for pride.A highly qualified Ph.D. Engineer in the USA is lucky to make $5 Million in his lifetime. So Cricketers don't know how lucky they are & must be good Role Models.

Posted by amitgarg78 on (November 3, 2011, 10:10 GMT)

Greed is global in nature and so is corruption. To claim anything else would be to ignore the reality. We are all taught the right things and yet heroes and villains, both come out of each society. If anything, these guys were stupid enough to get caught. Now every game with a twist will come under scrutiny and individual instances of brilliance would be clouded by whispers of a team throwing it away. For that, these guys deserve to be put away. The problem runs deeper than just these folks!

Posted by John-Price on (November 3, 2011, 9:57 GMT)

"As a purely financial matter, what the Pakistani players have been found guilty of wouldn't even be classified as a misdemeanour" I really don not know what is meant by this extraordinary statement. The players wee found guilty under general criminal law, not some sporting code of conduct. They were conspiring in what they must have believed to have been a plan to obtain money falsely. This is not a minor matter - it is stealing. The crime was not the no balls themselves - it was the deception and the gains that would be dishonestly made as a result. This is no minor misdemeanour and that is why they will find themselves in jail - nothing to do with 'sport tugging at heartstrings.'

Posted by sharidas on (November 3, 2011, 9:28 GMT)

A look around you - in the Office, in Public wherever- shows you clearly the attractions available for those who have wealth. Nobody describes a person as "honest" anymore. At best one is described as "Smart", which is very indicative of that person's capabilities in acquiring wealth. So also the spate of middlemen who can offer a way for an easy buck. In short corruption has become a way of life. As stated by you Harsha, one needs an honest and able man at the top - a commodity very hard to find these days but still available if politics, jealousy and such are kept out of the way. This is the right time for someone like Imran Khan to come into the picture and give credibility for Pakistan cricket.

Posted by pitch_it_up on (November 3, 2011, 8:43 GMT)

Well said Harsha! "If a politician had done this, it wouldn't even have made it to the news", and that it is the fault of those "who created the environment in which it was deemed acceptable to do the things these players did". So true!! I now feel sad for these Cricketers, especially Amir who is still in his teens (Asif escaped drug charges on couple of occasions though). Their crime is nothing compared to what the politicians do on a daily basis.

Harsha is big on once again!!


Posted by JP_the_genius on (November 3, 2011, 8:29 GMT)

Just Perfect Article. It is actually the environment around us which is responsible for this. Corruption is everywhere in our society. Just that we do not like our heroes to do anything wrong!!!! In our society, true people have to either sit in a side and keep quiet or just be part of the system. A bitter truth!!!

Posted by Vinod_Viswanathan on (November 3, 2011, 8:12 GMT)

Rightly Written by Harsha....Best line is " there are people who have said no to dubious money".I am sure that all the players who have completed 12-15 years of cricket life must be appreciated. They might have said a large numbers of NO to these so called cricket killers. Hope this might be the last spot-fixing controversy we are witnessing. To bring a fear in the young minds of cricketing talent this is time with best opportunity.

Posted by abdubaba on (November 3, 2011, 7:12 GMT)

First of all, it wasn't match fixing, it was spot fixing, so some balls were a farce, not entire matches.2nd of all, environments do matter @TheOnlyEmperor. A personal decision is made seemingly so on an individual level but its far from that. A personal decision, a choice is influenced by what you see, hear, experience in your lifetime, what your perception of the world around you is. Last, I'd just like to say that I, personally, believe that spot fixing is rampant in cricket. It happens and its carried out by cricketers of all nationalities. Not just Pakistan. Our cricketers are the ones that have gotten caught though. What I am trying to say is that spot fixing won't stop just because of these three convictions. It will keep on happening because there's money to be made in it. It might slow down for a while but it won't stop. So if, lets say, in the next 2 years other players from other countries are not caught in the act, then this will seem like an act of singling out Pakistan :/

Posted by Scorp on (November 3, 2011, 6:02 GMT)

Great article.. and to be honest something that could be expected from Mr. Bhogle... an article written as a true lover of the sport.. although the cloud of match fixing always hovered around for sometime.. this incidence and the verdict.. is a bit of a disappointment and also something dat was long awaited to come out eventually... but the key issue for me is what Mr. Bhogle rightly mentioned.. the ounce of doubt when we witness a fabulous turn of events on the field.. due to a spark of brilliance or the likes.. the stuff the Sport is made of.. hopefully the Gents, who have carried the torch for so long.. pass on the legacy and revive what Sport truely stands for.. Hope and Joy..

Posted by Sandman5five on (November 3, 2011, 5:51 GMT)

These guys should be made to watch the Hollywood movie, 'Coach Carter'. There's a message in it for everyone, the players, and the administrators.

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor on (November 3, 2011, 5:09 GMT)

This attitude and tendency of blaming the environment for one's person decisions has to stop. It's time that people grow up and take responsibility for their actions. Committing a crime is a personal decision in the ultimate analysis. As adults and as people who would like to be considered as adult, it is important that people take ownership of their actions instead of tarring all and sundry with "we are like this only". We are NOT like that, just because the large majority keep silent about the corrupt goings on in public life. Everybody is disgusted (everywhere) and that was reflected by the mass support to the recent anti-corruption movement. The media and its writers claim to reflect society, but they don't. They speak according to what commericial and political interests dictate and in so doing distort. The truth is a like a straight line. It can't be bent. If it is bent, then it is no longer a straight line and hence no longer the truth...

Posted by cassiano on (November 3, 2011, 3:21 GMT)

Great article, and yes Kudos to England for going the distance to prove that they were guilty. We watch the game with a lot of passion and zest and we expect our sportsmen to give it all and may the best men win. How depressing to know everything was just a farce and the results were all cooked up before one fights it out in the middle. ICC can do more to prevent this menace . Keep up the good work Harsha, your words work like magic , cause they flow from a person who for sure has a character that believes in good and dis-connects from the bad. We need more people like you who blow when it is cold and who blow when it is hot.

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Harsha Bhogle Harsha Bhogle is one of the world's leading cricket commentators. Starting off as a chemical engineer and going on to work in advertising before moving into television, he is also a writer, quiz host, television presenter and talk-show host, and a corporate motivational speaker. He was voted Cricinfo readers' "favourite cricket commentator" in a poll in 2008, and one of his proudest possessions is a photograph of a group of spectators in Pakistan holding a banner that said "Harsha Bhogle Fan Club". He has commentated on nearly 100 Tests and more than 400 ODIs.

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