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Sport and morality have a special relationship
by Suresh Menon
Sep 07, 2010

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By Suresh Menon

Matchfixing 2.0 might have taken ten years to arrive, but what is significant is that despite the first round implicating skipper Mohammad Azharuddin, the cancer did not spread in India. All the elements were in place - the money, the bookmakers, the meaningless matches – and Indian cricket might easily have paid the price.

It didn’t because India were incredibly fortunate to find a generation of high-integrity players. Hadn’t it been for the new skipper Sourav Ganguly and his band of upright men, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman, Javagal Srinath cricket might never have recovered. We haven’t given these players enough credit for this. Their value did not begin and end with runs scored, wickets taken and matches won but went beyond into those areas which in the long run have greater impact on a nation’s sporting consciousness.

There is a lesson here. What was common to the Indian heroes (apart from their middle class backgrounds) was education and a system of values. With the exception of Tendulkar, they were all university-educated men, some of whom did well in professional courses too.

The Indian board’s tie-up with Kumble for a finishing school or mentoring university will hopefully continue that tradition. The temptations today are greater – the resistance must be greater too.

Ten years ago, when Matchfixing 1.0 was unearthed, the reaction of the authorities was sometimes hilarious. There was a plan to fix spy cameras in dressing rooms. Or plant moles among the players. Is it any wonder then that the Anti-Corruption Unit that was set up had as many teeth as a newborn?

That is why the International Cricket Council reacting to the News of the World revelations within a week is rather like Usain Bolt running the 100 metres in four seconds. Yet, the fact remains that there is no system to deal with match fixing that is clearly laid out and independent of member-countries’ interference.

What is good for the sport is often in conflict with the narrow interests of the individual or team. As soon as the story broke, the players involved ought to have been suspended pending an inquiry.

A suspension does not presume guilt, and the Pakistan Cricket Board’s cry that it will not react till Scotland Yard registers a case is merely self-serving. The police authorities are investigating a criminal case, which by all accounts they will find hard to sustain given that no money was lost and no one came to any harm. They are not investigating the harm done to cricket. The disciplinary case is the ICC’s baby.

What will the fall out of Matchfixing 2.0 (let us not split hairs, spot fixing is merely a version of match fixing) be? The Asian bloc which has been calling the shots in the game has developed cracks but the money is still in India, and the power shift longed for by England and Australia might not occur. But there could be a realignment of forces.

Cameras and moles will not work. Perhaps the ICC might use the technique weathermen do, feeding as many discrete, unconnected events into a computer and then studying the pattern. Is a batting order being frequently changed? Are players being moved around? Are there surprising bowling changes? It is hard work, even boring, but any event out of the ordinary must be recorded over a period to discover whether a shift from the normal is occasioned by cricketing reasons or something sinister.

We demand a higher moral standard from our sportsmen than from others. This is how it ought to be. The President of Pakistan might be ‘Mr Ten Percent’ and T20 might have seen the kind of funds transfer that cause bank servers to collapse. But sportsmen cannot use that as an excuse. Sport and morality have a special relationship. Bill Clinton might have cheated on his wife, but had he cheated on a golf course, there would have been no redemption.

Unexpectedness is at the root of competition. Once that is taken out of the equation, sport loses the right to exist.

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