||The spot-fixing scandal 2013- Are we short-changing change?
Howard Cosell hit the nail on the head when he stated, “Sports is human life in microcosm”. Have you ever witnessed the ebb and flow of the Mexican wave in a stadium? The crests and troughs of a graph charting heartbeats during a game? The shrill yet inebriating sound of the vuvuzela? The sheer passion that is enthused in all who watch the game even though they may not be playing it?
A sport carries on its shoulders the burden of the hopes, aspirations and dreams of an entire population and even a single blemish shatters the rose-tinted view through which we all watch and support a sport. Effigies being burnt, players’ houses being stoned, players being booed- these are all very common instances whenever a team loses a match. The situation worsens when the masses find out that their faith in players has been reciprocated with the very same players selling themselves for ill-gotten riches and gold. Apart from football and cricket, greyhound racing as well as boxing and snooker have been subject to such allegations time and again. The common theme is sports where gambling and betting are common.
‘Lagi shart’ (you bet?!)- this phrase was taken a little too seriously by some of our prized cricketers recently. The quagmire that the recent spot-fixing saga has put sport in, may also be attributed to the fact that cricket is elevated to a pedestal in the nation.
This ‘scandal’, however, is neither a first for cricket in general nor for the Indian Premier League (the IPL) in particular. The body that frames basic rules of cricket, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), started off quite inauspiciously, with people blaming it of accumulating money and being biased.. It is said that in the 1980s, some used to deliberately delay play around 1pm because the total was approaching the pre-lunch score that they had laid 50 pounds on with Ladbrokes ( a popular betting store in the UK where betting in cricket is also legal as opposed to India). Everything, it seems, can be traced back to gambling, at the end. The Revd. Lord Frederick Beauclerk, son of a duke, was an avid gambler and claimed to have earned 600 guineas from cricket annually. Most of this activity was below the table. There are numerous tales of players arriving at a mutual ‘understanding’ of sorts, in single-wicket matches that Beauclerk organized in order to allow the one that they had all backed, to win. There was a match in Kent in 1807 when Beauclerk was easing ‘All England’ to victory in partnership with Billy Beldham, when six wickets suddenly fell like in a game of nine pins and it was later found out that they had been bribed to get out.
What may have changed is the evolution of ‘cheating’ and ‘fixing’ in sports- from match-fixing, to ‘spot-fixing’ and ‘session-fixing’ now. Simply put, match-fixing occurs when a complete or partial result of a game is pre-determined. Such an act violates the rules of the sport as well as the law in many ways. Games or matches that are deliberately lost are called ‘thrown games’. Spot-fixing is a goldmine of sorts for bookies and people looking to make easy money out of every small ounce of a sport. Essentially, it involves the illegal act of fixing a specific part of the match. It could be as small as a bowling a wide or a no-ball, or pre-determining the result of an entire over. Now, session-fixing is a new term that, though is not used formally in betting circles, yet in case of 20 over matches (T20 matches) refers to fixing a specific period of play, say a range of overs, like the bowling side agreeing to give away a certain pre-determined number of runs in the first six overs and so on. An early instance of spot-fixing that came under the scanner and led to concrete sentences was at the fateful August 2010 test match between Pakistan and England at Lords, England. And what an irony it is that cricket should be left shame-faced at the very venue which is considered to be the ‘Mecca of cricket’ and under the very nose of the MCC which is a guardian of sorts of the Spirit of the Game and the Laws of Cricket .
The players were suspended following the telecast of a sting operation by a particular news channel. In the video, the players were seen discussing money for changing their IPL teams. The Disciplinary Committee constituted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (the BCCI) banned Deccan Chargers pacer T.P. Sudhindra for life for "receiving a consideration to spot-fix in a domestic match", Kings XI Punjab pacer Shalabh Srivastava for five years "for agreeing to fix a match" besides handing one-year suspensions to Amit Yadav (Kings XI Punjab), Mohnish Mishra (Pune Warriors India) and Abhinav Bali (Himachal Pradesh) for “bringing the game into disrepute.”
Corruption in sports is a common phenomenon and has been present for a long time. Where sport and crime intersect, it implies the disciplinary function of the governing bodies overlaps with the state’s role as enforcer of the law. Such criminal law serves to outlaw corruption in sport and makes the fraudulent manipulation of a sporting competition illegal and punishable. This includes match-fixing as well as the payment of illegal “backhanders” and middlemen. This becomes a key facet in sport regulation due to the increase in the commercialization of sports as well as the heightened opportunities where there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.
Now, there is one thing that we must be clear about. The spate of media coverage on the recent issue of spot-fixing in the IPL has given way to a brutal dissection of the IPL as we knew it and a harsh reality check for the BCCI and of the BCCI as well. But while we are baying for the blood of the Board, let us not forget that while we need to handle these issues with a holistic approach. This does not mean discussing them in the same breath. What is happening due to this aggregated discussion is that we are losing focus from what needs to be done to clean the sport first of all. No doubt there is a crying need for transparency and accountability in the administration. However, directing all the problem at one person and seeking an overhaul of the Board is not the best approach. This aspect should not eclipse the rest of the issues that need to be resolved at a macrocosmic level.
The Board officials need to understand the fact that this din surrounding the Board is not directed at any individual. To the contrary, it is by virtue of the sanctity of the post that these officials hold in the world’s biggest and richest cricketing body that needs to be preserved. There are a lot of people who are of the opinion that the BCCI, being a private body has managed to run the sport and keep it alive unlike so many government-run federations. Thus, if they are making a little extra money out of it all and getting caught every now and then, there is no harm in allowing them to run like they are. However, who is giving a major amount of this revenue? It is the spectators who come to the stadia with expectations of watching a great game of cricket, and not a scripted skit with bat and ball.
Also, by indulging in excessive discussions of the constitution and composition of the Board, the very direction of the issue has been altered. We are bent upon making people resign and read up on who should head the Board, and sadly, this has transformed into a battle for power rather than serious attempts to clean the game we so love. The objective behind this demand for restructuring may be bona fide and a means to an end, however, the way it has prolonged does not seem promising for the purposes of the sport itself and the players. Clearly, the independent committee to be set up to probe into the matter is still undecided and if and when it does get finalized, who is to say it will be efficient in such a volatile state of affairs.
The time that is being put in having meeting after meeting to decide on the Board officials, should also be utilized to form a strategy for the independent committee to embark on its investigation as well. Who knows that by the time the culprits are found by this committee, it would be so late that they would have fled the country like so many bookies did in the span of a week, between the breakout of this scandal and the arrest of a prominent film actor. As if this is not shameful enough, a news channel reported that bookies had started placing bets on whether the Board’s President would quit or not. This shows that while the Board, the media and the masses are in a fix as to how to handle the crisis in cricket, the bookies and those responsible for the crisis in the first place, are making merry.
Finally, there is one point that has been repeatedly emphasized: only sportspersons should run sports bodies and be involved in their administration. I agree with this in principle. But it is important to note that there has been a shift in sports and with increase in professionalism, different facets have come together. It needs an accountant, a lawyer, a software engineer, a marketing specialist, a PR professional, among others. Thus, the governing body should have a representation of all these but the sportspersons must have a say. They should not be mere figureheads in the administration nor should they take decisions in fear or desire to appease the administrators. The Registrar of Companies under whom the BCCI comes should also look into the matter at the earliest. To conclude, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly said that sports and politics should not be mixed. Let us not short-change the change that we seek to bring about.
What we are witnessing presently is the deafening uproar against the body that governs cricket. Let us not lose sight of the issue that started it, that of spot-fixing and how it has affected cricketers from all levels. Earlier, there was some consolation in the fact that most of the cricketers who had been caught were newbies and the fact that they had been unable to handle the instant stardom and exposure given by a glamorous tournament like the IPL. But, what excuse do we have now, when a Test cricketer, umpires, team owners etc. have been caught in the midst of it all?
The bull needs to be taken by the horns this time around. Let us explore feasible ways to address the problem at the grassroot level. While we have psychologists and other experts involved at the level of the national team, the support structure for a player in his growing years is next to nil. As a result of this lag, not only do players get lured and spoiled easily at the nascent level, but also this has no tangible result in the long run. In fact, there are so many people who are now joining a particular sport as a profession because they think it is sure to bring in monetary rewards and a chance to rub shoulders with celebrities’ et al. Even though this may be a small margin of the total chunk of players, the point is that even one bad fish can dirty the whole pond.
What should be done while the probe is on is a question worth pondering over. It is easy to blame the BCCI for all the murk and hold it solely responsible for overhauling the sport and its regulation to correct the wrongs that have occurred. However, the cricket associations and academies should hire a sports psychologist at an amateur level. That person would be in charge of conditioning players so that they know exactly what sort of elements await them in the bigger sports world. What has been observed in the case of some of the players caught in the recent case is that they were players at the domestic level wanting to strike gold and partake in the fanfare and moolah that the IPL promises to anyone and everyone involved. Psychological conditioning will serve to educate them of the risks associated with the sports fraternity for it is no more what it used to be. Apart from this, this will help in curbing the chances of players turning into bookies.
Let the IPL not be akin to a farm animal we rear for milk and then slaughter it for the meat. Let us look at the bigger picture and improve the institutions, adopting a positive outlook. Let the youth and driven people be a part of this change and not administer the sport we adore from behind closed doors. For First Baron Acton (in Letter in Life of Mandell Creighton) rightly said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”