Australian cricket's corruption denial syndrome

December 3, 2011
Shane Warne and Mark Waugh. Both retired Australian cricketers were fined for passing information to a bookmaker.

Cricket is on the verge of a corruption-induced implosion, yet you wouldn’t know in Australia. As far as Australian cricket administrators are concerned, it is the end of the world as they know it and they feel fine.

Despite more and more revelations coming out about corruption in cricket, it was still shocking for many to hear former Indian batsman Vinod Kambli claim that something was “amiss” in the semi-final of the 1996 World Cup.

He said on television: “I was stunned by India’s decision to field … I was standing on one side and on the other end my fellow batsman was telling me that we would chase the target.

“However, soon after they quickly got out one by one. I don’t know what transpired.”

Kambli said: “Something was definitely amiss. However, I was not given a chance to speak and was dropped soon after.”

Less shocking was the reaction of Mohammed Azharuddin, the Indian captain of the match in question, who among others responded that the claims were: “Absolutely rubbish, whatever he [Kambli] is talking.

“He doesn’t know what he is talking [about], when you have people who have no character and no background come on TV and talk absolute rubbish in front of the nation and demeaning all the players who played in the team, it is totally disrespectful and it's very sad.”

The revelations seem to confirm a fairly popular narrative on the corruption scandal. That is, it is a terrible blight on the game but it is mostly confined to the more shadier parts of the world, namely the sub-continent.

When the Pakistani cricket board refuses to pay its players a comparatively reasonable wage, ensuring a climate in which bribery flourishes, the narrative is too easy. It means that proper questions about the role of corruption in cricket in First World countries have not been properly asked.

Consider the statement made by former chief anti-corruption investigator Lord Condon, who said: “In the late 1990s, Test and World Cup matches were being routinely fixed … There were a number of teams involved in fixing, and certainly more than the Indian sub-continent teams were involved.

“Every international team, at some stage, had someone doing some funny stuff.”

Or consider the evidence given by former Pakistani player Qasim Umar, as relayed by Brian Radford in his book published this year, Caught Out.

Umar said a director of a Western Australian company ran a “hookers reward program”, where women were paid to have sex with cricket players who did as the company director wanted.

He also said a leading Australian batsman “had worked as a match fixer for the company director, who had paid him big money for letting him know the team, which bowler would open the attack, and from which end of the ground”.

Umar said he was told that two Australian players had “taken lots of money from the director to throw their wickets away”. All of this occurred throughout the 1980s.

Added to this, AFP reported on October 10: “In recordings played to Southwark Crown Court, an agent, Mazhar Majeed, alleged that Australians, as well as some of the biggest names in Pakistani cricket, were prepared to fix parts of matches.”

The response of Cricket Australia (CA) has been lacklustre to say the least. With regards to Majeed’s allegations, CA chief executive James Sutherland rightly pointed out that the claims made by a person of “dubious repute”.

He didn’t, however, seek to explain why Majeed would make such allegations in a conversation he didn’t know was being recorded.

However, the continued accusations have forced CA to take some formal action. It announced on November 16 that it would be creating an anti-corruption unit to “oversee the Sheffield Shield, Ryobi Cup and the newly-formed Big Bash League with the International Cricket Council continuing to monitor international competitions”.

Sutherland said: “Betting-related corruption is a significant issue to sport in general and Cricket Australia is determined to institute measures that safeguard the integrity of our sport.”

However, there is reason to be sceptical about this unit, namely because of CA’s past behaviour in dealing with gambling and corruption.

In 1994, Australian cricket stars Shane Warne and Mark Waugh accepted $5000 and $4000 respectively to give weather and pitch information to an Indian bookmaker named Mukesh Gupta.

Waugh provided information on 10 matches and Warne provided information on five matches.

After being told about this, the Australian Cricket Board (now CA) engaged in what can only be called a cover up. It privately fined the players ― Waugh was fined $10,000 dollars and Warne $8000.

But the ACB was determined to keep it secret and they did so for about three years ― until it was revealed in the media.

Public outrage at the ACB’s handling of the case forced it to call an inquiry into corruption in Australian cricket. But the inquiry had severe limitations.

It was totally private, no witnesses could be compelled to give evidence and the head of the inquiry did not have complete defence against any defamation accusations.

Even so, Radford’s book said: “O’Reagan recommended that the ACB should review the way in which it dealt with serious disciplinary proceedings, publicity of such proceedings, penalties to be imposed and counselling for players with gambling interests”.

It described the fine each player was given as “inadequate, as their size does not reflect the seriousness of what they had done”.

It took 17 years for the administrators of Australian cricket to set up an anti-corruption unit after the Warne and Waugh incident, evidence enough they are content to take an ostrich in the sand approach.

The double standards for Australian players as compared to others is quite evident in their treatment. Warne and Waugh were given small fines, had successful careers and are now both commentators of the game.

Compare this with the sentences handed out to Mohammad Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammed Asif, whose crimes were only one degree of separation from Warne's and Waugh’s. They have been given jail sentences of between six and 30 months.

The accusations against Australian players that are flying around should be treated promptly and seriously. CA, which has an interest in not rocking the boat because of potential damage it could cause, is not up to the task.

Seemingly, then, it is left to fans and players to demand that a serious look into corruption in Australian cricket is undertaken. If it is not, then cricket may well go down the same path as boxing ― now almost permanently discredited due to corruption.

[Tim Dobson maintains Press Box Red blog.]

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