Making match-fixing a criminal offence will be a "game-changer" and the "single-most-effective thing" for sport in India. That is the strong belief of Steve Richardson, the coordinator of investigations at the ICC's anti-corruption unit (ACU). Ajit Singh, the head of the BCCI's ACU, concurs with that viewpoint, adding that India also needs a "very strong law" against betting, which is believes is the source of corruption in cricket in India.
With India scheduled to host two global marquee men's events in the next three years - the 2021 T20 World Cup followed by the ODI World Cup in 2023 - Richardson urged the Indian government to consider creating a match-fixing law for sport like its neighbour Sri Lanka.
In 2019 Sri Lanka became the first major cricket-playing country in South Asia to criminalise match-fixing with punishments including a 10-year prison sentence. The ICC ACU had helped the then Sri Lanka government to draft the legislation in the wake of extensive investigations that found several Lankan cricketers including former captain Sanath Jayasuriya guilty of breaching the corruption code.
"India has got two ICC global events coming up: the T20 World Cup [in 2021] and the World Cup in 2023," Richardson said. "At the moment with no legislation in place, we'll have good relations with Indian police, but they are operating with one hand tied behind their back. We will do everything we can to disrupt the corruptors. And we do, we make life very, very difficult for them as far and as much as we can to stop them from operating freely.
"But the legislation would be a game-changer in India. We have currently just under 50 investigations. The majority of those have links back to corruptors in India. So it would be the single-most-effective thing to happen in terms of protecting sport if India introduces match-fixing legislation."
Both Richardson and Singh were participating in a panel discussion on the subject of 'Does India need a match-fixing legislation?' as part of the Sports Law & Policy Symposium held on June 20. The rest of the panel comprised Supreme Court lawyer Rebecca John, who represented Sreesanth in the IPL spot-fixing case, senior journalist Pradeep Magazine, and Suhrith Parthasarthy, a lawyer in the Madras High Court.
More than the players, Richardson stressed the law would deter the corruptors, who he said were right now freely moving around. "I could actually deliver to the Indian police or the Indian government now at least eight names of people who are what I would term serial offenders, constantly approaching players to try and get them to fix matches," Richardson said. "At the moment with the lack of legislative framework in India it is very limited what the police can do, and to that extent they have my great sympathy because they try as professionally and hard as they can to make the existing legislation work, but the reality is it wasn't framed with sports corruption in mind.
"So the reason that there is an imperative for legislation specific to match-fixing - yes, it is about the players, but more importantly it is about those outside the sport who actually corrupt the players and are organising and pulling the strings of these networks. Those are the people I would like to see dealt with under match-fixing law."
To support his stance, Richardson provided the example of the Bribery Act in the UK, which was used to prosecute former Pakistan batsman Nasir Jamshed, who pleaded guilty to charges of bribery in the PSL. Jamshed was handed a 17-month sentence in February by a Manchester court. In 2010, the Pakistan trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were prosecuted under the 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act which was repealed by the Bribery Act.
"I see this from a slightly different perspective inasmuch as I do not see the players as the main problem when it comes to match-fixing," Richardon said. "The players are the final link in the chain who actually would go out on to the pitch and perform any act if they had agreed to do so. The problem that I see is further upstream and it's in the people who are organising the corruption, people who are paying the players the money, and most of those sit outside of the sport."
'No adequate law to cover match-fixing'
As far Singh was concerned, he said the BCCI's ACU could do "little" as far as the "non-participants" were concerned. But Singh, a former Indian Police Service officer, who served as DGP Rajasthan before taking charge at the BCCI in 2018, agreed that there had been "no adequate law to cover match-fixing", which both the federal government as well as the courts have recognised previously.
In 2013, the then Indian government even presented a draft bill for the prevention of sporting fraud, but it has not been acted on subsequently. The draft bill covers the definition of sporting fraud, the perpetrators, and the punishment - which can extend to five years of imprisonment, a fine of INR 10 lakh or five times the benefit derived from the sporting fraud.
In 2016, the RM Lodha Committee, which drew up the framework that paved way for the structural reform of the BCCI, told the Supreme Court that the Law Commission of India (LCI) should look into criminalising match-fixing in sport. Two years later, the LCI agreed that match-fixing of any kind in sport, including cricket, should be a criminal offence carrying significant punishment. Calling gambling and betting two sides of the same coin, the LCI also recommended to the Indian government that it consider regulating betting and gambling activities as against imposing complete prohibition.
"So definitely there is a requirement for a law which criminalises match-fixing," Singh said. According to Singh, the roots of match-fixing lie in betting, which he described as a "malaise" in India.
"Just to make windfall gains illegally in an illegal way through betting they [corruptors] approach the participants - it could be a player, it could be a curator, it could be a match official, whoever. And the amounts of the money involved are unimaginable."
Betting law - 'totally archaic and the punishments are laughable'
Singh said unverified accounts indicate annual turnover from betting in India is in the range of INR 30-40,000 crores. Singh pointed out that the corrupters were not just operating in international sport, but were also busy influencing players and matches in domestic cricket with some even posing as "godfathers" to young players
"It's quite an anomaly that you can bet INR 500 on the outcome of a match for a side to win/lose in India and that would be illegal. However, if you offer USD 30,000 to a player to underperform in that match then there is nothing illegal in that." Steve Richardson, ICC ACU's coordinator of Investigations
Singh said the BCCI's ACU had used data agencies like Sportradar to examine the extent of betting in some T20 matches in Indian domestic cricket. "It's not the IPL, but it's the state leagues. It (betting) comes to the tune of maybe [up to 20 million] euros or pounds. So the amount of betting even in small matches is so much that the temptation to fall prey to the demands or requests of these people is very high. And it is more so with people who don't see much of a future for themselves.
"Cricket is played in rural areas and mofussil towns and there are certain godfathers have come to finance them. They see a promising player, finance the player, become his patron, and ultimately what happens is when he is at a level where his games are televised, where he has made it to a certain league, then they extract the pound of flesh. So it needs to be curbed heavily, both at the match-fixing and betting level."
As it happens betting is illegal in India, but Singh pointed out it was governed by a law that was "laughable" in its current form. The law is the 1867 Public Gambling Act. Those breaching it barely blink an eye, Singh said, with only a cursory monetary penalty to pay. "We need to make a very strong law against betting. Right now the law that exists is totally archaic and the punishments in it are laughable. You impose a fine of INR 200 or 500 and that's the end of it."
Both John and Richardson agreed that the Gambling Act ought to be replaced as soon as possible. "Its quite an anomaly that you can bet INR 500 on the outcome of a match for a side to win/lose in India and that would be illegal," Richardson said. "However, if you offer USD 30,000 to a player to underperform in that match then there is nothing illegal in that."
Richardson pointed out that betting and corruption should been seen as separate only because betting was legal in many countries. "We have to be very, very clear here that betting itself is not corruption. So what is corruption is people who are trying to get to players to corrupt them in order to make money from betting."
Singh said part of the proposed law against sports corruption should comprise a "specialised" investigating agency, "which keeps a proper database, which can join the dots, which when it sees an alert raised on its screen so it could investigate. Also the law is to facilitate better investigation and better appreciation of what evidence can be collected and what evidence is available."