You can bet your life that corruption is part of the game
Fixing has been a part of cricket for more than 200 years and is crucial to its growth and prosperity
A reporter walks into a hipster coffee joint on Whitechapel Road in London’s East End. He orders an espresso at the counter, then sits down and prepares to write a story on newly made claims of match fixing in cricket.
So he needs Wi-Fi. He tries to sign in to the café’s complimentary connection but it doesn’t want to know. He looks down the list of available networks and the only other open option is – here’s the punchline, folks – Ladbrokes, the betting shop, which has a branch nearby. Come on in, friend, say Ladbrokes, who soon have the reporter’s e-mail address.
They’ve already been in touch, boasting “best odds guaranteed”, “VIP experiences”, “in-shop machine offers”, and “great offers on the go”.
This, then, comes to you courtesy of the good people of the gambling industry and the customers whose money feeds the beast. And who between them, cricket says, are stealing the game’s soul by paying players to do their evil bidding.
The latest episode in this ongoing and sorry saga has been broadcast by al-Jazeera, who alleged this week that 15 international matches were tainted by 26 instances of spot fixing in 2011 and 2012. The channel’s first foray into this territory hit the airwaves in May.
Al-Jazeera say their sources’ predictions for how many runs would be scored at an agreed point in an innings – you can place bets on what that number of runs will be – were proved correct 25 times out of 26.
Cricket’s response has been to huff and to puff, and to demand that al-Jazeera blow their own house down by co-operating with anti-corruption officials. Al-Jazeera have said they will put their trust in Interpol.
“The ICC [International Cricket Council] is committed to working to uphold integrity in cricket,” a statement quoted anti-corruption unit manager Alex Marshall as saying.
“As you would expect we will again take the contents of the programme and any allegations it may make seriously and will investigate fully. However I must refute the assertion that cricket does not take the issue of corruption seriously, we have more resources than ever before working to rid our sport of corruption.
“The investigation into these allegations has already commenced and will run alongside a number of other live unrelated investigations. When considering the claims we will work with professional independent betting analysts. As with the first programme we have and will continue to ask for the co-operation of the broadcaster. We have made repeated efforts to engage with the broadcaster as it can play such a crucial part in the full and thorough investigation it has called for.
“We do welcome the commitment from the broadcaster to share the files with Interpol and, I hope, other law enforcement agencies who can act upon the information and support us in ridding the sport of these criminals.”
Here’s Cricket Australia (CA) chief executive James Sutherland: “CA takes a zero-tolerance approach against anyone trying to compromise the integrity of the game, and to suggest anything otherwise is unsubstantiated and incorrect. Prior to the broadcast of al-Jazeera’s documentary CA’s integrity unit conducted a review of the latest claims by al-Jazeera, from a known criminal source, and, from the limited information provided by al-Jazeera, our team have not identified any issues of corruption by any current or former player …”
So because CA’s people can’t find what al-Jazeera say they have found the latter’s claims are “unsubstantiated and incorrect”? What kind of bullshit argument is that? Because the umpires and the match referee don’t see you rubbing sandpaper on the ball doesn’t mean sandpaper has not been rubbed on the ball.
As for the ICC, they clearly don’t understand how journalism works. If al-Jazeera were to spill the beans why would their current sources keep trusting them and how would they cultivate new sources? Their credibility would be worth as little as crooked cricketers’.
Maintaining the good of the game is not the press’s responsibility. That’s for the suits to think about, and if they can’t see that exposing corruption is indeed for the good of the game they should be drummed out of cricket.
They should be only too pleased that someone is shining a light on their most pressing challenge, not trying to co-opt that light and bring it under their control. Then again, suits don’t like to be told how to do their jobs properly, especially when they aren’t doing their jobs properly. Conversely, journalists who out themselves as fans should be summarily sacked: their audiences cannot trust embedded stooges to tell the truth. Unless, that is, those journalists know and act on the bulletproof principle that they owe their loyalty to their readers, listeners and viewers, and not to the source of the freebies nudged their way.
No one should arrive at a cricket ground expecting free entry, free desk space, free power points, free Wi-Fi and free food and drink. But take any of those away and reporters will toss tantrums that would impress a two-year-old.
So we don’t see reporting on the clear conflict of betting companies sponsoring major teams. Instead we see betting companies advertising on some of sport journalism’s biggest platforms.
Maybe that’s why there’s been at best tepid acknowledgment in the mainstream press that al-Jazeera may be onto something. Mostly we’ve had flaccid dismissals of the documentary on the grounds that not enough names have been named. And this from people who know that using the right names at the wrong time will get them sued just as easily as using the wrong names at the right time.
These are the some of the same people who will be noisily outraged if the free Wi-Fi in the press box is a touch slow or the caterers run out of free cake at the tea interval.
The best case scenario is that they’re pissed off that they don’t have the story al-Jazeera do, and the worst that they know the alarming truth and don’t want to tell it.
Here it is: fixing has been an important part of cricket’s success as an industry for more than 200 years and is crucial to the game’s continued growth and prosperity.
Gambling built Lord’s, whose website informs us breathlessly that, “Around £20,000 was bet on a series of games between Old Etonians and England in 1751!” That’s right, exclamation mark and all. By 1787 Thomas Lord – that’s his name on the tin of cricket’s poshest ground – was cashing in on the market.
The modern incarnation of all that is the growth explosion in the T20 market, which serves up bottomless fodder for bookmakers and punters alike.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce estimates that the betting market in that country is worth $60bn, and that 80% of it – or $48bn – is spent on cricket. All good, except that you cannot legally bet on cricket in India.
So, in the same way that authorities struggle to protect sex workers from abuse in places where sex work is criminalised, there is little cricket can do about fixing where it matters most. Whether cricket wants to do something about fixing in India is the more pertinent question, perhaps even more so whether something should be done.
Cricket knows that India keeps it financially healthy, and that for the money to keep rolling in Indians placing bets on ever further flung and less relevant tournaments in the fastest growing (only growing?) version of the game have to be tolerated; protected, even.
Like the banks that failed the world in 2008, cricket’s betting market is too big to be allowed to fail. The game has always needed gambling like a bicycle needs wheels, and that won’t change. And where there is gambling there will be corruption.
Corruption is against the law? As is betting on cricket in India? Since when has capitalism respected any law that doesn’t promote or at least safeguard its own interests? Politicians use prostitutes, don’t they?
Those questions have been brought to you by Ladbrokes. They might also have the answers.