An officer from the ICC's anti-corruption unit (ACU) will, for the first time, travel alongside each of the 10 participating teams in the World Cup. The move is part of the ACU's drive to stave off the ever-increasing, ever-present danger of corrupt elements who have been frequently implicated in various sport-fixing scandals. However, the ACU is confident that the World Cup is "well protected".
Alex Marshall, the ACU general manager, said that the advantage of having an officer from his unit travel with each team was to instill confidence among the players and support staff in reporting any approach from corruptors. "We have put an anti-corruption manager from my team with each of the squads, my people who work all around the world. Usually this is someone who has worked with the team anyway, goes on tour with them, knows all the players and support staff, and has a good relationship so they can report any concerns," Marshall said at a media conference at the Oval on Friday.
Marshall said the exercise proved to be fruitful when ACU officers travelled recently with a few international teams. "It's something we've used at some of the T20 events around the world, and being away from the ground, it just allows anti-corruption managers to get to know the entire squad very well.
"The person who's with Bangladesh has been on tour with Bangladesh in recent months, knows all the players and all the squad. The person with Afghanistan has been on tour with Afghanistan, knows all the management, knows all the players. We've developed a much closer relationship with all the players and the squads, and having them (ACU officers) with them (the squad) throughout the whole of the World Cup just perpetuates that good relationship. The indicators that it's working are the amount of reporting we're getting from players."
Unlike his predecessors, Marshall has been more open and aggressive in his stance and words with regards to sending a message to unscrupulous elements. The ACU has identified that the corruptors, having found it hard to tread around players, have been trying to influence people on the "edge" which includes support staff, selectors, administrators, and groundsmen. Recently the ACU charged five people in Sri Lanka, including former captain Sanath Jayasuriya, as part its wide-ranging and longstanding investigations into alleged match-fixing activities. The others who were charged were Sanath Jayasundara, Dilhara Lokuhettige (twice), Nuwan Zoysa (twice), and Avishka Gunawardene.
"We have put an anti-corruption manager from my team with each of the squads. Usually this is someone who has worked with the team anyway."Alex Marshall
Marshall said the ACU had identified about a "dozen" corrupt elements globally, whose images were being shared with all 10 teams as well as the UK police. "This World Cup will be very, very well protected by anti-corruption (unit) working with police, National Crime Agency and gambling organisations. You can never guarantee any event will be free of an issue - what I can say is that the corruptors know how well protected this event is, they know how professionally it's run and we have an anti-corruption manager with every single squad, not just at the matches, but away from the matches looking out for these people. And it's around a dozen people who have had the 'disinvite' to the Cricket World Cup 2019 and who we will keep away.
"If anymore pop up, we will be speaking to them as well. They are people who live all over the world, but the majority of the corruption we deal with has its origins in the sub-continent, unregulated betting markets."
In an interesting move, Marshall said the ACU had reached out to some of the corruptors - through solicitors and direct communication in some cases - alerting them they would be barred from the World Cup as soon as they were spotted. Some wrote back saying they would not come to the tournament. "I have either written, called or Whatsapped all the corruptors and the other main corruptors we know operating around the world to tell them not to come anywhere near the World Cup. So far they have all promised me they are not coming. But sometimes with corruptors, you find they don't always tell the truth. So we will be very proactive in keeping on top of them, keeping them away from the tournament."
And that's going to be enough to keep the corruptors away? "Who knows? I can't actually prevent somebody getting on plane somewhere, but what I can do is keep communicating with the corruptors, tell them they are not invited to the World Cup, if they are seen here, at the ground, they will be thrown out. We have shared their details with the law enforcement and the police here in the UK - if our guys see them anywhere around the World Cup, they will be asked to leave."
Marshall was confident the various safeguards put in place would make it really difficult for the corruptors to disrupt the World Cup. "When they look at the World Cup they see a very well organised, professional, well governed, well protected event. This is a very tough event for corruptors to come near."
ICC ACU open to amnesty across all cricket?
During the probe in Sri Lanka, the ACU also offered amnesty to encourage people to come forward with information. Marshall said the exercise had proved "pretty successful" with about 11 people coming forward. Asked whether the ACU planned to repeat the exercise in other countries, Marshall said he was open, but wanted to first wrap up the Sri Lanka investigation. "Not at the moment. We are still digging with what came from the amnesty - you will see we charged three people last weekend from Sri Lanka and there are more cases in the pipeline.
"When we come to the end of that, we will then evaluate whether we repeat that elsewhere or in fact across the whole of cricket. It was pretty successful - 11 people came forward and we got quite a lot of new information."
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo