Television channels digging up corruption in world cricket through sting operations is nothing new. One such expose resulted in blowing up the 2000 match-fixing saga, resulting in shaming, banning and conviction of a couple of great cricketers of that era. Now Al Jazeera has come up with a documentary, their second this year, listing 26 scams in 15 matches involving international sides.
Though the channel has not named players, it has given details of one bookie, the Mumbai-born, Dubai-based Aneel Munawar, and his conversation with an unidentified England player involved in the reprehensible act. As for pictures of him standing at a vantage point near stars, they are normal as all shady characters make it a point to get photographed with them.
Munawar’s photographs have Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Graeme Swann and Darren Sammy in the frame. The channel was quick to clarify that it was not to suggest he knew them. England and Australia promptly defended their players’ integrity and the systems in place to deal with corruption. Alex Marshall, chief of ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit, also vehemently protested.
“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.”
Last week, Marshall had been in the news talking about corruption in Sri Lanka cricket, while charging Sanath Jayasuriya for refusing to cooperate with an ICC investigation into the island nation losing a series-decider against Zimbabwe. He went a step further, saying both local and Indian corruptors — who he thinks are in large numbers — were involved in the case. He even picked out 12-20 active bookies and warned England and Sri Lanka to beware of six notorious corruptors.
Al Jazeera alleges that England were guilty of getting involved on seven counts, Australians five, Pakistan three and that Sri Lanka-Zimbabwe match. The channel has censored details of overs, runs, and names of players, though it has claimed that in some cases both teams were involved. To make the allegations sound credible, the channel points out that only one of the 26 scoring configurations allegedly projected by Munawar was incorrect. That too by one run.
These are serious matters. But pray, why have these issues been brought up after years, that too only after TV channels have exposed them?
Al Jazeera’s sting in May allegedly uncovered spot-fixing during England’s and Australia’s tours of India in 2016-17. Nothing came of it as the channel refused to hand over to ICC unedited footage of their sting.
ICC should take these allegations seriously, ask players to come clean, or challenge channels to provide unimpeachable evidence.
Marshall’s solution is to bring match-fixing and approaches for fixing under criminal law. Sri Lanka, according to him, is willing to frame a law that makes it a crime for anyone to approach players. What he wants is for India to enact a similar law.
Meanwhile, he wants to shame bookies by publishing their pictures and make their life difficult. He says in the same breath that he does not have any powers to impose sanctions in the subcontinent, unlike in South Africa, England and Australia, where there are specific criminal offences of trying to do match-fixing or approach a player.
Till ICC involves governments, rather than boards, to come up with laws to put the fear of god in bookies, corruptors will continue to thrive, periodical stings by television channels or otherwise.
(The writer is a veteran commentator and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)