Spot-Fixing Scandal: Sportsmanship and Cricket

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Derranilphil of discusses the spot-fixing scandal along broader lines of sportsmanship in cricket.

Well, well, well. The Pakistani players have been suspended and there is some talk about the severity of the sentences etc. but I think we should, at this time, look a little deeper and wonder why the Pakistani team has been plagued by scandal and the suspicion of malpractice for many years.  Is it the country that is rotten and the players merely reflect the values of the society that they have grown up in or do we have to look at the moral attitudes of the individual player?

What is to blame; the lack of personal honesty or no understanding of what is called sportsmanship?

Cricket should be, and aims to be, the moral and intellectual leader of the world of sport but it must not lose faith with itself. No other sport starts its code with a preamble that implores and expects the spirit of the game to be the over- riding structure. It is high time that some forthright speaking was undertaken on moral attitudes towards cricket and sport in general.

Honesty and sportsmanship are not inherent values. They have to be taught and acquired: they are attributes of community living. Organized society could not function without a basis of trust in honesty; sportsmanship, which is the code of conduct for games, reflects the social benefit from organized recreation.

Children are supposed to learn honesty at home and at school. As children in sport we are supposed to learn sportsmanship from our seniors and from the experience derived from participation in games. Honesty is conformity with the rules on a personal basis; a voluntary undertaking to abide by certain limitations imposed for mutual convenience. A burglar is dishonest because he does not accept society’s rules of property; a cricketer would be dishonest if he knowingly used a bigger bat than the allowed size.

Sportsmanship is a wider concept, more difficult to define and never, in any given moment, precisely formulated. A cricketer generally knows when he is breaking the Laws of Cricket but sportsmanship is measured in opinion. The unacceptable behavior of yesterday may win today’s approval; today’s behavior may become intolerable in the light of tomorrow.

Sportsmanship is so essentially an attitude of mind that it tends to be discussed with some embarrassment. Examination diminishes the strength and influence of the concept. To cry that “it isn’t fair” becomes in itself a breach of the flexible code of “fair play.” To question what is or what is not “done” invites the counter-question of “who says so?” Leaders need faith to answer clearly and loudly. “We do.”

Even when sportsmanship is reduced to a simple issue of personal inclination and integrity, complications are introduced. A batsman caught at the wicket may walk or wait under conflict of responsibilities to the fielding side, to the umpire, to conscience and to his own team. A bowler may be balancing his own interpretation of right and wrong against the team interests of the moment.

Further complications arise in matters of degree. Time- wasting to avoid another over just before and interval might scarcely raise an eyebrow when the same practice at the end of a match with the outcome in doubt would raise a storm of controversy. There is no easy option for the leader. Sport grows increasingly vulnerable to ethical wounds as it grows increasingly professional. Winning a Test rubber, a county championship, a world cup, a boxing bout, carries significance beyond the intrinsic rewards of participation and achievement. There is a cash conclusion, perfectly proper in itself, and in no way incompatible with a code of sportsmanship, but inevitably influential on playing attitude.

Professionals do play cricket with a professional interest. They must. A professional captain cannot view his players without regard for their professional interests. The professional in any sphere seeks success because he lives by success. How he seeks success is his ethical problem.

The problem is of small consequence until it involves a community influence. The lone golfer whistling operatic airs on the green distracts no one but himself. Footballers could kick each other into hospital without creating a social disturbance if their performances went unseen and unrecorded. First- class cricketers could devise any principles and practices to meet their own requirements were there no other cricketers dependent on them.

The professional’s responsibility

First class cricketers do not play in isolation. By their special skills, by their conformity with the laws, by their example of attitude, they lead all cricket. That responsibility for standard is at once the highest privilege and most exacting burden of the public cricketer. He, above all others, should display the warm heart and the cool head, the unflinching integrity, the capacity for moral distinctions that constitute sportsmanship. His outlook must be an outlook applicable to all cricket at all levels, making the game as much of a pleasure for all, as it is a business for some.

To this end he needs all the help he can; be given in clearing his mind and establishing his code. He needs help from management to define his functions as a player, as an ambassador, as a public figure. He needs help from cricket writers who have resolved a conflict of their own between cricket’s welfare and a quest for personal aggrandizement through controversy.

The faith to be honest, to faith to reject the mean and meretricious, the escape from pragmatism without principles, form steps on cricket’s way to moral and intellectual leadership.

These are the challenges ahead for Pakistani cricket. I wish them well as I think sport has an important role in establishing civil society. Sport can help a civil society to emerge in a country that faces enormous challenges on and off the cricket field. The ICC has finally stepped in and I hope they have started the ball rolling. I hope that in fifty years hence we will be talking about the last thirty years like the way we talk about the early 1800s. You may like to know that Lord Beauclerk, the president of the MCC, expected to make 600 guineas betting on his own matches. Apparently he would back himself to make the highest score and then refuse to run for any rivals hits. There were no boundary allowances in those days. You had to run all hits out.

So cricket has faced these challenges before and consigned them to the dustbin of history. Let’s hope we can do it again.

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