A novel sentencing method for guilty fixers

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New World Cricket Watch columnist Matthew Wood, from Balanced Sports, takes a novel approach to the match-fixing crisis facing cricket

After hearing several voices espousing potential punishments for players found guilty of spot -fixing, I thought perhaps it’s time to take a novel and contextual approach as to how to deal with these “fixers”. I think everyone agrees that those guilty of putting themselves before the integrity of the sport which made them so wealthy should be banned, the question though is for how long?

Do immediate lifetime bans work? That most gambling-related bans have occurred in the last ten years seems not to have dissuaded the current crop of alleged bribees, making them either super-naive, super-stupid or super-arrogant. Life bans handed out to Mohammed Azharuddin, Salim Malik and Hansie Cronje have left little or no impression on those allegedly fixing since.  Mohammed Amir was 9 years old when Malik was banned, old enough to know that the Pakistani ex-captain had been “in the wrong”. Even if he wasn’t aware of it at the time, fixing has been the bane of subcontinental cricket for much of the past twenty years meaning the responsibility for informing the players falls directly on the shoulders of the control boards.

That Pakistan and India have been the centre of most of these allegations is quite obvious, giving an indication of the roles that their boards must play in stamping out this scourge. That cricket plays such an important role in the mass-psyche of these countries also cannot be ignored. Perhaps it’s time to start holding players and officials accountable for the hopes and dreams of their nations.

The Pakistani average per capita income has been announced for 2010 at somewhere around 2600 International dollars, with International dollars being hypothetical money used for comparative purposes only. Compared to other cricketing nations, that’s miniscule; using International dollars, Pakistan ranks 130th worldwide in average income, smack-bang between economic powerhouses Nicaragua and Uzbekistan.  This International dollar total equates to somewhere around $US 1000.

Major Test-playing country Per Capita Income (International $) Rank (Worldwide) Per Capita Income ($US) Rank

(Worldwide)

Australia 38911 10 45587 11
England 34619 19 35334 22
New Zealand 26708 33 27259 27
Barbados, Jamaica & Trinidad/Tobago (avg.) 15575 (Would be 50) 10992 (Would be 51)
World Average 10366 Would be 76 8600 Would be 60
South Africa 10244 77 5824 73
Sri Lanka 4769 113 2041 119
India 2941 128 1031 139
Pakistan 2600 133 1017 140

(source: International Monetary Fund 2009 tables)

The table above paints a stark picture. It would be much worse had Zimbabwean cricket not collapsed so horribly seven years ago – the average annual per capita income there has fallen to only $US 375. There’s no question as to why subcontinental, African or even Caribbean cricketers could be tempted to take the money on offer – if a gambler lays on $US 50,000 then that’s more money than the average Pakistani could earn in 45 years. To put it another way, those 45 years comprise give or take two-thirds of the average lifespan in Pakistan. When compared to an Australian it’s no wonder that the Western cricketing establishment doesn’t seem to be as tempted. The same $US 50,000 makes up one year’s income for the average Skippy, hardly worthwhile throwing a career away for when the money from endorsements, central contracts and other miscellany can last a lifetime.

It’s also no coincidence that the performances of any national side defines a population. Most players speak of their joy at being able to represent their country and what it stands for; to wear the crest of a nation made up of of people of whom you are very proud is perhaps a country’s highest honour. The general populace of every country lives vicariously through their sports teams and most people would be horrified if that faith and trust were to be thrown away by players with opportunities that Joe (or Mohammed) Public would die for.

So with this information in hand, a novel way of punishing the guilty party might be to take the lowest common denominator – in this case Pakistan – and apply the same principles to the punitive action. If found guilty, a player would be banned for the length of time it would take the lowest-earning cricket fan to earn the amount of money alleged to have been accepted. So for example, of the eight major test-playing nations, Pakistan has the lowest average annual income of $US 1017.  If an Australian is found guilty of fixing, then it is only fair to judge them by Pakistani standards as by its very nature cricket is a worldwide  community and every nation suffers should the game be brought into disrepute. If that Aussie is found guilty of accepting $US 50,000 then ban them for fifty years – the amount of time the least among us would take to make that money legitimately. If our hypothetical Aussie is found guilty of accepting $US 10,000 then ban him for ten years.

It may be harsh – being found guilty of accepting anything over perhaps $US 8000 would amount to a lifetime ban – but this method would judge players by the “everyman” standard. It works this way because cricket is a world sport. Obviously penalising our on-the-take Australian by his country’s per capita income is less of a penalty – to make a quick $US 20K he risks only a little over six month’s ban if discovered. Obviously this has almost no value as a deterrent and it forgoes cricket-mad Mohammed Public in Rawalpindi, earning $US 1017 (and potentially far less), finding the sport he loves weakened by the iniquities of its players. This puts the the cricketing punishment into terms that the public both identifies with and enforces; in essence the guilty party is judged by those he is representing – his own peers

There are undoubtedly flaws in this argument. Policing alone would require solid evidence, probably nigh on incontrovertible proof or even a confession. Also, this simplifies the issue to the nth degree and doesn’t allow any flexibility – “black and white” laws tend to work well in theory but less well in practice. But in the whole sphere of world sport, cricket is very much an afterthought.  Played as a major sport by only eight nations, cricket needs to maintain its integrity in order to survive in the long term. The accountability to this must rest on everyone – fans, administrators, coaches and especially the players.

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