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Trial by media will discourage whistle blowers
by Suresh Menon
Sep 13, 2010

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By Suresh Menon

The whistle-blower in sport has to be a brave man. He puts his finger on colleagues he has played with for years, so becomes the team pariah, an outcast who cannot be trusted. Yet, if the evil of match-fixing and all its cousins including spot-fixing is to be eliminated from cricket, then players who notice things out of the ordinary must be encouraged to report them.

Sadly, they then come up against not only teammates, they have to deal with a media which is unable to distinguish between the perpetrator of a crime and its potential victim. Cricket continues to be played with one unwritten rule: thou shalt not tell on they teammates. If that weren’t the case, it is difficult to believe that so much could have gone on in the less sophisticated match-fixing days of a decade ago without someone getting suspicious.

Players are not dumb; they usually have a shrewd idea who is pulling his weight in the team and who is not. Years after Mohammad Azharuddin was implicated in the scandal, a player told me: “I knew there was something funny going on, but I had no idea what.” His response was to withdraw deeper into himself and not ask embarrassing questions.

That is why when a player does speak up, it must be seen not as ratting on teammates but serving the higher cause of the sport. This means that he should be guaranteed the support of his captain, his officials and the media. The captain and the officials follow protocol, the former passing on the matter to the latter, but the media are out of anybody’s control.

Whatever raised Dilhara Fernando’s suspicions in the first place, and whether he had valid cause for worry is no longer the question. Following the extreme reaction to his doing the right thing by informing the higher-ups, the Sri Lankan star might be wondering if he did the right thing after all. The media frenzy in his country has seen his case being misinterpreted across the cricket-playing world. “He has been under ICC investigations for almost two years now,” a newspaper reports, suggesting that far from being the good guy in the story, he is the one with the horns and the tail.

Fernando might well have been questioned by the ICC – but that is what the ICC needs to do to get to the truth. It has to investigate every case. It has to follow up every lead. Fernando, possible victim of semantic jugglery as reporters sniff around looking for the next lead in the big story is probably ruing the day when he decided to voice his suspicions. Transparency is a good thing, but the ICC can hardly be expected to share all its information in the early days of a case.

Such trial by media – actually it’s more than a trial, players are convicted and judgement passed by the media – will only discourage the future whistle blower.

Potential middlemen come in all shapes and sizes, with all manner of cover stories. The most convenient accessory seems to be the mask of the journalist – he is given access, and can bide his time over a season or two while he builds up credibility. Another is the ‘local dignitary’ who cannot be crossed. Senior players develop a sixth sense over a period, but what if the seniors themselves are involved?

It is impossible to keep track of everybody and everything, which is why the co-operation of the players is vital. Even if only ten percent of their suspicions turn out to be valid, that is still worth the hours spent on rushing down blind alleys and barking up the wrong trees.

Admittedly, it is not the media’s job to help the ICC catch the crooks but they do have the responsibility to expose shady dealings and to tell black from white. By making life difficult for the whistle blower, they eliminate a crucial arm in the fight against corruption.

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