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ICC still struggling to deal with match-fixing

ICC still struggling to deal with match-fixing

Dubai: Only a few years after the ICC vowed to crack down on corruption in the wake of the Hansie Cronje scandal, the sport’s governing body is under fire amid allegations Pakistan players were involved in “spot-fixing" in a Test against England.

A tabloid newspaper sting uncovered an illicit scheme that the International Cricket Council’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit failed to detect -- despite the fact the players were on the ICC radar for several months.

Pakistan parliamentarian Iqal Mohammed Ali is wondering where that unit was during the spot-fixing, which is the betting on individual events in a match and can involve huge sums of money.

“What were the security officials of ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit doing in England?" Ali asked. “If we believe that the Majeed brothers were in touch with Pakistan players, how was it possible that it didn’t come to the notice of ACSU officials?"

Ali said the latest scandal only highlights the failures of the ICC and various governments in South Asia to take the problem of match-fixing seriously. But an opposing view argues that it’s unfair to lay the blame entirely with authorities, since illegal gambling is widespread across South Asia and is run by criminal syndicates who routinely use violence or buy off politicians.

“This says the corruptors have never gone away," a source close to the ICC, who refused to be identified as he wasn’t authorized to speak on the record, told The Associated Press.

“There would be a pleasant utopian view that after the ACSU was set up, then everything that had gone wrong previously was no longer an issue," he said.

“Clearly that is not the case. The fact of the matter is that the betting industry is a massive one and the stakes have got higher and higher as the years have gone on, so things are just as serious as before, if not more so."

In the latest scandal, a British tabloid alleged that two of Pakistan’s players deliberately bowled no-balls against England last week in exchange for money. In similar cases, individuals in illegal betting hubs would then have that information passed on to them so they can bet on a sure thing.

The News of the World tabloid said it secretly filmed its undercover reporters, posing as front men for a Far East gambling cartel, in discussion with a man it identifies as London-based businessman Mazhar Majeed, who appears to accept £150,000 ($232,000) in order to make sure no-balls are bowled at certain times. Majeed is reported to be an agent of some of the players.

The brazenness of the scheme has shocked many cricket pundits, but most acknowledged they were not surprised given the history of match-fixing in the sport.

Australia’s Mark Waugh and Shane Warne were fined in 1995 for taking money from an Indian bookmaker in exchange for information on pitch and weather conditions during a tour to Sri Lanka. Players from South Africa, India and Pakistan were banned from international cricket in the game’s more recent match-fixing scandals.

The biggest of those scandals involved Cronje, the former South Africa captain who admitted in 2000 to receiving $100,000 to manipulate matches.

South Africa slapped a life ban on Cronje, who died in 2002 in a plane crash, and the scandal caused the ICC to set up its anti-corruption unit.

On Tuesday, ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat called match-fixing in cricket “sad and disappointing" but denied that his organization has allowed the sport to be corrupted and said players have to help in preventing more cases.

“We have identified corrupt individuals and advised players to stay away from them," Lorgat said in South Africa. “We need cooperation from the players. They must listen to us and also have discipline."

Lorgat, also a South African, said the ICC has not allowed corruption to increase by failing to act.

“We have a lot of measures in place," Lorgat said.

“These measures work by and large. There have been many approaches (to players) reported and followed up," he continued. “Betting activities will continue, our concern is if players and match officials are involved.

Whatever happens outside the game is not our interest, but we will do anything possible to keep it out of the game."

British police are investigating the tabloid allegations. Any player found guilty of colluding with bookmakers to manipulate the result could be banned for life.

But tackling the larger problem of gambling in cricket -- illegal in much of South Asia -- will likely take more money and greater political will.

Pakistan, especially, has repeatedly failed to take action, even though there have been clear signs that some of its players were involved in illicit activities.

After Australia routed Pakistan in Sydney in January, suspicions were raised that at least one of the matches on the visitors’ disastrous tour in which it lost all three tests, all five ODIs and the sole Twenty20 game.

Seven Pakistan cricketers were fined or suspended after the Australia tour due to infighting and poor performance. However, the ban didn’t last long and the Pakistan Cricket Board also halved the players’ fines.

In India, several prominent players caught up in match-fixing still have a role in the sport. Manoj Prabhakar served a five-year ban before returning as a coach for the Delhi Ranji Trophy team, while Ajay Jadeja, who was banned for five years, is a cricket expert on the NDTV news channel and also coaches in domestic cricket.

It also is difficult to eradicate the problem, given its scope which has been helped by the rise of betting sites on the Internet and big money flowing into the newly created Indian Premier League.

Every major city in India and Pakistan has betting syndicates, and estimates have put the money generated in India at $1 billion for big matches. In Pakistan, bookies estimate they bring in $10,000 to $15,000 a day during a limited-overs match.

Betting syndicates operate in the United Arab Emirates, too, but mostly in secret out of Indian and Pakistan-owned businesses that sell such things as drapes and upholstery.

Since betting is illegal, it’s mostly run by underworld gangs employing a vast network of bookies.

A potential gambler can get the odds through any number of mobile phone services, but they must be introduced to a bookie from within a network.

Once the introductions are made, the bookie sends an intermediary to complete the transaction.

Spot betting is common in India. People usually bet on what will happen on a particular delivery or during an over, apart from the performances of players. No-balls and boundaries are also bet on commonly.

In 2008, former Indian federation president Inderjit Singh Bindra said the problem of match-fixing will only be solved when gambling is legalized.

“This will not only eliminate things like match-fixing but also generate huge revenue for the government in millions. It is in the interest of the government," Singh Bindra said then.

Others said the answer is getting younger players to embrace the values of cricket and ensuring the players are paid well enough, so they are not tempted to make money illicitly.

“The remuneration for Pakistan players may need to be looked at," the source close to the ICC said. “They are the poor relations of the (cricket) world when it comes to getting paid and so the temptation is there to supplement earnings. The fact the Pakistan players have been prevented from taking part in the lucrative IPL because of the poor relations between Pakistan and India doesn’t assist in that matter."

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