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'You'll never entirely eradicate fixing'

The out-going chief of the ICC's Anti-Corruption Unit talks about the state of the game today, spot-fixing, and why Twenty20 threatens cricket's integrity

After a seven-year stint as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul (later Lord) Condon was unveiled as the head of the ICC's new Anti-Corruption Unit (ACSU) in October 2000, with a brief to clean up a sport that had been deeply scarred by the match-fixing scandal that ended the careers of three Test captains - Hansie Cronje, Mohammad Azharuddin and Saleem Malik. After a decade at the helm, he now hands over his duties to the former Northern Ireland police chief, Sir Ronnie Flanagan. Cricinfo spoke to Condon at a meet-the-press event in May.
It's been 10 years now since the scandal broke and the ACSU was brought into being. How do you assess the progress you have made in the intervening years?
I am absolutely confident there has been a seismic shift in attitude from players towards fixing in the last 10 years. If we go back to those bad old days of the late 1990s, it's easy to forget that cricket was pretty much in crisis. Its credibility was in threat, and so was its commercial viability. Sponsors were pulling out because it was clear there had been a whole series of fixed matches in every form of the game, from Test cricket to World Cup tournaments.
The corrupters were literally going into the changing rooms, and in some instances were influencing team selection and ordering what events should happen on the field. One player contacted, and was contacted by, a fixer several hundred times in the course of a Test match, and no matter how friendly you are with someone, that's just not something you'd do. Now we have a regime in place of no use of mobile phones, and controlled access to changing rooms.
There were some initial moans, but on the whole the players have been very supportive. They are aware of what can go wrong, but it's in their interests not to get sucked in. There is a lot of legitimate money around cricket these days, and players know full well that they don't need to get drawn into grubby deals for US$20,000 here or there.
And yet, we still hear reports of ongoing investigations, such as the arrest of two Essex players earlier this season. How can you be confident that the problem is under control?
My prediction is that you will never entirely eradicate fixing from the game of cricket. It is a wonderful game, but if you were designing a game to fix, you would design cricket, because it is a whole series of discreet events, and every ball you can bet on. You can't guarantee a throw-in or a free kick in soccer, but if you're a corrupt player, you can guarantee to do certain things at key moments [in cricket], and if you can bet on that you can make a lot of money. Corruption in any walk of life, whether it's politics or business or sport, is about human frailty and weakness, and opportunity. Most cricketers are totally sound in their integrity, but one or two still mix with the wrong people.
What were the methods that the fixers used to identify the players they believed would do their bidding?
It was classic corruption, the type that you see in almost any walk of life. It would start with someone declaring, "I'm a devoted fan" or "I'm sponsoring a new form of bat", or "I want to take you out to dinner and pay for your holiday because I think you're a great player". It's almost like a grooming, and before long the player is sucked in.
Then the questions come. "What's the mood in the team? Who's going to be in the team tomorrow? What's the batting order? Who's going to be the first-change bowler?" And certain players who were sucked in started to wonder: would it really matter if we won a particular match? Or, when you're scoring well, what does it matter if you're out before you get to your fifty? Once you could gamble on who loses, that was the key. No sportsman can guarantee that they'll win an event, but they can guarantee that they'll lose. And that then unlocks, right across the spectrum of sport, the opportunity to fix.
If you're a fixer trying to get a betting coup, you don't really care whether it's a domestic match or an international match, provided you can get your betting coup. Domestic cricket around the world faces similar challenges, but they aren't so intense. For the really big fixers, it's as much about status and getting close to international players and being seen with them, so most of the bad guys are trying to fix at international level.
The buzzword at present is "spot-fixing" - the rigging of certain events within a game. Is this really a new phenomenon or is it just a fancy new term for the same old story?
I think the last routine, really bad, series of fixes of whole matches probably took place up to and including the early spring of 2001. Since then, I am reasonably confident that we haven't seen a return of those days. The overall result was initially what the fixers were looking for. It was all fairly crude, but when those avenues were closed off, then it became about the challenges of micro-fixing, or spot-fixing. If you know in advance when a bowler is going to bowl a no-ball, it's like knowing when red or black is going to come up on a roulette wheel.
In the serendipity of cricket, you often do get freak results, because it's a fabulous game and you do get strange things happening. We get phone calls from people saying that a match must have been fixed. But quite often I've said to people, at its crudest, "Put up or shut up"
Fixing needs really two things. A cricket match and the ability to bet on it. It is the most bet-upon sport in the world - no other sport gets close, not even horse-racing. The sums of money are phenomenal. You can have up to a billion dollars being bet on a single match, and in that respect, it's no surprise that a tiny number of players get lured into malpractice. The challenges that world sport now face around gambling, in a way, are similar to those involving performance-enhancing drugs in the 1970s and 1980s. In a way, it was never entirely overcome but it was certainly controlled.
Given the size of the challenge you had to surmount, how did the ACSU set about cleaning up the game?
The corrective measures that we instigated centred around three key aspects. Enhanced education for the players, so that they recognised the dangers; enhanced physical security, including much stricter rules on dressing-room access, and one of our three regional security managers present at every international cricket match; and a disciplinary code that is sufficiently powerful to act as a deterrent for anyone tempted into wrongdoing.
Anyone who wants to play international cricket has to go through a programme that raises their awareness of who the fixers were, how they fix, and how they groom players. That has been very, very well thought out, and very useful, because we now have a generation of players who are supportive of what we are trying to do, and aware of how the fixers operate. They are the providers of the most important intelligence that we get.
It is a common format that applies across sport, because it's not rocket science. First you raise awareness of how the fixing is done, through a programme of education, then you put in place physical security around your events, and then you have some sort of intelligence/integrity unit to back you up - some sort of investigative body that can get on the case pretty swiftly if something goes wrong.
Given that other sports, such as snooker and Italian football, have been beset by their own match-fixing scandals in recent times, can they draw lessons from what cricket has already been through?
Yes. Cricket probably has the strongest anti-corruption code for players and support staff of any international sport, and as such it now serves as a template for other sports, not least the Olympic movement, who are threatened by the same vices. The modern players know that if they bet on games, underperform for fixing, even if they don't report an approach, that is a disciplinary offence in itself. If we have due reason we can ask for their phone records and they have to provide them.
A strong code of conduct is all very well, but does it go far enough, given that sport is such big business these days?
My view has always been that if you are dealing with match-fixing in sport, quite often it can also involve organised crime, so your first port of call should be criminal law. What we've tried to do around the world is encourage governments, where possible, to put in place specific criminal legislation dealing with fixing or cheating at sport for gain purposes. I was able to give evidence in the UK in 2005, as the Gaming Act was going through Parliament, and Section 42 includes a specific criminal offence for cheating in sport for gaming purposes. But in some countries it is still not a criminal offence. I wish it was, but that is a judgement call for those governments concerned.
We also work really closely with all the lawful betting agencies. We have Memorandums of Understanding with the likes of Betfair and the Gambling Commission, and basically anyone who is legitimately involved with sport and gambling, and we work very closely with the police and intelligence services around the world. There have been many, many arrests, particularly in the subcontinent, of people who have sought to get involved in cheating in sport, but particularly cricket.
How does the rise of Twenty20 cricket affect the work of the ACSU, particularly the proliferation of new tournaments such as the IPL?
A year ago I gave a warning that Twenty20 cricket represented the biggest challenge to the integrity of cricket for probably 10 years, not because I anticipated that things would go wrong, but it is that familiarly heady cocktail of party atmosphere, entertainment, cricket and celebrity, and amid all that we found that some of the bad old faces who were involved in match-fixing a decade ago started to reappear at grounds and hotels and wanted to get involved again.
I'm certainly not leaving in a complacent frame of mind that everything is hunky dory, but I believe it is a different game with different attitudes and a different awareness these days, so I'm pretty confident about the future, even though there's far more cricket now and it's more commercial. But my advice now is the same as it was back then. Cricket would only have to get complacent for a few months or a couple of tournaments for those bad days to come back very quickly.
In fairness to the players, we have a generation that wants to defend the integrity of the game. It's only a tiny minority who get drawn into malpractice, and what I've always said to the players is that while I expect them to be honourable and support what we are doing, I will defend them when unfair allegations are made against them.
In the serendipity of cricket, you often do get freak results, because it's a fabulous game, and you do get strange things happening. We get phone calls from people saying that a match must have been fixed. But quite often I've said to people, at its crudest, "Put up or shut up." Either defend the game you love, or give us some real evidence that a match has been fixed. The vast majority of players are honourable.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.