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Interviews

'Corruptors like weak governance and chaos because it allows them in'

The ACU general manager Alex Marshall on the extensive efforts being taken to clamp down on corruption in cricket

Team integrity officers became a norm after the 2013 IPL corruption scandal  •  Getty Images

Team integrity officers became a norm after the 2013 IPL corruption scandal  •  Getty Images

In an exclusive interview with ESPNcricinfo, the ACU general manager Alex Marshall goes into detail on the efforts being taken to clamp down on corruption in cricket, how players potentially get their heads turned, and what one must look out for during any suspected approach.
How do you distinguish between investigating activities such as illegal betting and pitchsiding [relaying info from inside the ground to beat the delay in live televised broadcast], and investigating specific approaches made to players for spot-fixing or match-fixing?
All bookies in India are illegal and unregulated, because betting is illegal and the government has not legalised it. But betting in India is widespread and the volumes are absolutely enormous. You've been to matches where there's 12 to 50 people in the ground and yet we know that the betting volumes on that match can be quite substantial.
The Afghanistan Premier League (APL) has significant sums of money being bet on it. What you need to distinguish though is that while all the bookies are illegal and unregulated, most of them are just bookies. All they're doing is taking bets on cricket and we're not interested in them. Let's say there are 1,000 bookies. Of all those bookies, a very small portion are corrupt and they are the ones we are interested in because what they then do is use their wealth to find intermediaries - people who know the players and might trust them - to make approaches in return for a sum of money to underperform in a phase of the match.
Mohammad Naveed and Shaiman Anwar are really good examples. The [corruptors] wanted to control the opening batting, the opening bowling and the captain. So that is the absolute ideal for them. The opening batsmen both score slowly. Those small number of corrupt bookies take unlimited bets on how many runs will be scored in the opening phase of the match or the powerplay, and they'll also take unlimited bets on the number of runs conceded by those bowlers because if they manage to corrupt the bowlers, they know they're going to concede more than 12 or 15 runs in an over.
They've got no connection to pitchsiders who are feeding information. In some countries it is illegal and therefore the police can take action, but it's not in the anti-corruption code. It happens in every single sport. They are a nuisance and to the legitimate regulated betting industry, they create a loss problem for them because they're getting an advantage over the normal punter who is sitting at home and is getting the broadcast. So it's worth separating the pitchsiders, which is a thing in every sport including cricket.
The sums mentioned in the Shaiman Anwar and Mohammad Naveed investigation would have been anywhere from seven to ten years of the annual salary in the UAE central contract structure at the time..
What makes the top Associates so attractive to the corruptors is the relatively low cricket income of people from Nepal, UAE, Oman, some of the African cricket nations. They are being paid very little if anything at all. If you look at the bottom end of the Full Members, Zimbabwe would be a good example. They are among the poorest of the Full Member nations and we see players there being offered $30,000 to commit corrupt conduct. We see players in the Associates getting offered $10,000. We see players in European club matches getting offered 3,000 Euros. So that's the sort of scale of the offers. An offer of $10,000 to someone in some of these places is an awful lot of money. An offer of $30,000 in Zimbabwe would probably buy you a house.
So taking that into consideration, including the resources available to the ICC to police events such as the ICC regional ones that are now going to be broadcast, what kind of enhanced strategies do you plan to employ to curb some of these activities?
The principle is that we all at the ICC, including the integrity unit, want to see the growth and development of cricket. The idea that the Associates are going to get better and more extensive coverage is absolutely brilliant and we celebrate it along with everyone else. We also recognise that the more popular any form of cricket becomes, the more likely it is that corruptors will target it. So we're doing a whole load of different things. One of the things is we're working with all the Associates, but particularly the ones who are higher risk, to provide them with material around education and what they should do in the event of anyone receiving an approach or things for them to look out for in the way they run their matches. We will also risk assess which of those matches are most likely to be targeted and then we put anti-corruption resources into that particular match.
We've done that for example in matches involving UAE, Oman, Nepal and others recently, particularly where they've had three and four-team series events, and we then put an anti-corruption person at the event. But the best protection of all is that anyone in that squad who has any suspicious social media approach, comment, a new sponsor who suddenly comes in…. anything that seems too good to be true, as long as they alert us immediately, we can intervene against the corruptors.
We generally know who the corruptors are and who is behind the approaches and then we can disrupt them. The playing group are getting better and better and more confident at sharing with us anything that seems a bit odd or dodgy. In the last couple of years, we've gone from 200 pieces of intelligence coming in each year to over 1,000 pieces of intelligence. Most of that comes from people within cricket saying, 'This slightly odd thing happened' or 'My agent had an odd approach' or the classic line, 'We can probably get you into this tournament, but you'll have to do some things for the owners.' That would be the line you hear a lot. It's absolutely spot on that for the corruptors, if they can corrupt someone in a small franchise tournament who might then go on and play international Associate member cricket, they've then got an investment in that player who is completely compromised and they'll utilize that when it comes to the international matches.
I know there were at least three USA players - according to a USA Cricket official who then forwarded the information on to the ICC ACU - that prior to the Global T20 Canada were approached and told, 'We will draft you in if you help us fix games. If you don't want to help us fix games, then we just won't draft you.'
Those are the classic lines. 'You come in. We'll get you a place. Everyone else is doing it.' They'll probably throw in a few names that the player has heard of and say, 'They're already doing it. All you have to do is do what the owners say in a couple of matches. It won't affect whether you win or lose and we'll give you an extra whatever the figure is on top of your tournament fee if you work with us.' So what you're describing is absolutely the classic approach by the 10 or 12 corruptors that we know are operating around all these events.
Most of the Associate players at the 2019 Global T20 Canada were setting reserve prices for the draft at the $3,000 minimum. A few elite Associate players had reserve prices set at $10,000 or $15,000. Sandeep Lamichhane set his price at $60,000. Shaiman Anwar and Mohammad Naveed had their reserve prices originally set at the minimum and then a few days before the draft, suddenly they were resubmitted into the draft with new reserve prices of $25,000 and $30,000 respectively, and both of them were drafted. When things like that happen, being sold for a much higher value than the market would indicate, does that raise a red flag?
Yes. A couple of things raise red flags in those franchise tournaments. One is unusual pricing of the players. The other, which you also mentioned, is late changes just before the draft or someone is brought in who the coach or management weren't asking about and then suddenly they appear as a player. We've covered recent franchise tournaments where you see exactly that type of behavior and in some cases it's because the owners - who are shown as the official owners - actually are not. They've been put forward by corruptors who are behind the scenes. They put forward names of people who when checked won't cause any problems. But once the activity starts and once the corrupt approaches start, we then normally can work out who these new owners are really connected to, who is behind it, and disrupt it.
You also have to remember you get a lot of people prior to tournaments who pretend that they are involved in the tournament for the owners and still try and corrupt the players. So alongside corrupt owners, which does happen sometimes, are people who claim to be connected to the owners but they really are freelance corruptors who are claiming that connection just to get the player who has already been selected to do corrupt activity for them.
Payments are offered, compromises are attempted. Even honey traps, which seems like something from the 1970s but very recently we dealt with cases with the use of a prostitute to compromise a player and then the corruptors move in the next day and try to get the person to work for them. I think perhaps reassuringly, the fact that we usually pretty quickly identify who the corruptors are, how they're operating, which new phone they've got, which new name they're using, means we tend to disrupt them and in recent franchise events we've snuffed it out just before the start of the event because we realised what was happening. In the Qualifiers in the UAE, we took that action just before the start of the event and we're pretty certain we prevented corrupt activity from happening in that tournament.
"It goes back to the basic principle, which is to recognise that something about this doesn't feel right. Reject it, if it's a stranger bearing gifts, just start by rejecting it. Talk to your agent, talk to your manager, and then report it to us."
You said before that when you identify higher risk players in teams, then you put extra resources in place. How do you define "high risk" or "higher risk"?
It's usually a combination of the interest in that team or those teams, the profile of the match or tournament, and then the susceptibility of the people taking part possibly because of low wages or they haven't been paid recently. So when I talk about growth and development, which is what we all want, if you look at the women's game for example, there was very little interest at one point in the women's game. Clearly, interest has risen significantly recently. As you've seen its profile rise and more interest in the matches, that's always then matched across in the betting market and therefore we finally saw the first proper corrupt approaches made to women's players. Compared to trying to corrupt a top-level men's game where the squad is really well-protected, they know everyone, they know what to look out for, you can't just come in as a bat sponsor offering $10,000 because they've already got a bat sponsor offering $200,000.
That's just an example but Under-19 cricket, I'd say the same thing. As Under-19 cricket becomes more popular and the tournament gets more prominence, the corruptors will look for the most vulnerable teams taking part. Within the teams, anyone they might spot that they think will be susceptible to going out for a shopping trip and spending $2,000 on trainers and t-shirts, that might be enough with a 17-year-old who is very poor and its their first time away from home at an international event. It's the same with Associate level cricket. If there is interest in the match, interest in the profiles of the teams, there will be a decent betting market. They then look for which of those players might be susceptible. In the UAE example, Naveed and Shaiman Anwar fit into that very well. They were late in their career. They're about to retire. They were seen as worth approaching.
When you say 'interest in a team' or in a T20 franchise league, comparatively speaking the APL was happening at the same time as an Australia vs Pakistan Test match. Traditional metrics would indicate that interest would be more focused on a match between two highly ranked international sides. Yet, the betting volume for the APL was out of proportion dwarfing the Test match...
But if you look at where the interest is in India which is the betting market that we're talking, the APL was being broadcast in India. It was being done in the short form which is most popular and compared to a Test, with its evening short form matches the APL is a much more attractive option to the viewing audience. Therefore, they're going to bet on it. Therefore, the bookies have got decent liquidity in the market. Therefore, it was worth approaching people in that tournament, and they did and we've still got investigations coming to an end from that event.
They would seek broadcasts particularly in the subcontinent because of who they were getting to take part. So it already had a particular exposure on television in the subcontinent. But you then also have to look at…. corruptors like weak governance and they like chaos because it allows them in. They love franchise events where all the teams have not been sold with three weeks to go and the people running the event are desperate to secure the next owner or the next two owners at the last minute. So corruptors look for those opportunities and I'm afraid the APL is a very good example of poor governance, an appalling run event, dreadful accreditation and a whole host of other issues that just meant it was very attractive to corruptors.
What kind of factor does that make in terms of it being easier to police or track movements at regional ICC T20 World Cup qualifier events?
The qualifier events and regional events will all operate to ICC standards. They're still much lower key events without the resources you would see in a global event. But nevertheless they will all have the Player and Match Official Area, which will be properly set out. There will be a form of security at the ground. There will be monitoring of those matches closely by us because we get alerts in the legitimate betting markets if anything strange is going on. There will be a proper match manager that we can talk to and understand where everyone is and that they're all complying with the rules. Of course what you don't have in these events are the franchise owners, which very often is the route in for the corruptors.
What percentage of cases are linked to suspicious franchise owners?
We currently have got 42 live investigations. In the last couple of years, we usually have between 40 and 50 live investigations. About half of those will be to do with franchise cricket and very often when it's to do with franchise cricket, then it's to do with owners - the real owners behind the front people who are put up as the owners - or people pretending to be a part of the ownership group who actually have nothing to do with the owners but they're claiming an association to influence people. So quite a significant proportion of our live investigations is from that area.
Associates are represented quite heavily across those 40 to 50 cases. But in a way we don't spend too long saying, 'This is franchise corruption' or 'This is Associate corruption' because it's the same corruptors. They just look for the opportunity and the ideal for them is to get a player compromised who is playing in franchise cricket and then two weeks later is playing in an international match. So they don't make any distinction really. It's about opportunity and risk for them.
For Associate teams, a disproportionately significant number are made up of expatriates in their mid to late 30s with a prior professional career in their native country. Does that raise a red flag?
What I would say is that the corruptors will look at what they believe to be the motivation of the people they are approaching. So if the corruptors think that someone's sole motivation is money, whatever country they're in is just to earn money and they have no particular allegiance, then certainly the corruptors think that person is more susceptible than someone who is not just playing. Among the Associates, there are plenty of countries where the players are amateurs, it's costing them money to play for their country but they're doing it because they're very proud and they love the sport. If you look at it from the corruptors point of view, and I keep going back to the UAE players because there are some cases still coming through the system, it's quite clear that the corruptors felt that they were motivated by money, some of them, and they felt it was worth approaching them.
There was a recent article in The Telegraph, which mentioned that approaches have been made via Twitter or Instagram DMs. What kinds of things are key to reducing the risks to players at these ICC qualifying events?
The way most players receive some form of approach is that it might start as someone pretends to be a fan, someone wants to be a new sponsor, someone wants to offer them a place in a franchise league. It's very often via one of the social media channels. So part of the education we do is we play very up-to-date videos showing exactly how the corruptors are operating. An education for some of the top Associate members is not just about telling them what the anti-corruption code says.
We show them a very professionally made video showing exactly how the corruptors are approaching people in the previous three to six months. We show them the pictures of those corruptors and we give them their names and aliases. Very often at the end of that session, one or two will come forward and say, 'I had this strange message on Instagram from this guy who said he wanted to be my agent and you've just shown him in the slides.' I can think of someone who says he's an agent who has come up frequently, probably more than 20 times now, at those education sessions. By just sharing honestly with them the people who are likely to be approached by them - their pictures, names and aliases - very often someone will pick them out.
Some of the players, particularly at the lower level, they haven't really had much profile. The idea that they have people contacting them on social media is quite attractive. We build that into the education to help them try to protect themselves a bit more. It goes back to the basic principle, which is to recognise that something about this doesn't feel right. Reject it, if it's a stranger bearing gifts, just start by rejecting it. Talk to your agent, talk to your manager, and then report it to us.
What else do you think is important for people to understand about these ICC events that comes from an anti-corruption perspective?
We absolutely want to see a higher profile for Associate cricket. I think it's coming and I think some of the pathway and qualifier events are going to be excellent cricket. I think new people will come through. Look at what has happened to some of these Afghan players who then got prominence and then are playing around the world. So I think it's fantastically exciting that all that is happening. We just have to always remember that every bit of growth and development is also attractive to the corruptors. The integrity unit has to keep upping our game to make sure that we disrupt them from those forms of cricket in the way that I think we are actually pretty successful at disrupting and keeping them away from Full Member cricket.

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna