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Subcontinental Drift: Crooked Cricket
And how the Gentleman's Game can be saved

April 13, 2000
Web posted at 3:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 2:30 a.m. EST

As shocking as it is, the Hansie Cronje saga is just one more sorry tale in a string of recent scandals that have sullied professional cricket. Indian, Pakistani and Australian players have already been accused of (and, in far too few instances, punished for) taking money from bookies--whether to fix matches or simply in exchange for information about team selection and pitch conditions. That a South African name has been added to the rogue's gallery is regrettable, but also inevitable.

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Gambling on cricket has become a massive, if subterranean, industry in the subcontinent. By all accounts bookies now routinely offer players fat bribes to throw matches or share inside information. Adding to the financial lure is the belief among some players that they can get away with it--cricket boards everywhere seem unable, or unwilling, to do anything about the surfeit of scandals.

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When I interviewed former Indian players like Tiger Pataudi, Bishen Bedi and Sanjay Manjrekar for TIME's World Cup cover story last year, they all expressed grave concern over the reluctance of the sport's administrators to take match-fixing allegations seriously. The Indian cricket board did rope in a former Supreme Court judge to look into some of the charges raised by former player Manoj Prabhakar, who blew the whistle on some teammates. But the investigation was neither comprehensive nor, as the Cronje story suggests, conclusive.

There is no more time to waste. The International Cricket Council and the boards of all the major cricket-playing nations must join forces now and set up a powerful task force of former players to cleanse the sport, once and for all. They should seek guidance from players and administrators of other sports that have been tainted by match-fixing scandals in the past--baseball and football come readily to mind. Here's what the task force must do:

- Bring in professional sleuths and conduct a worldwide investigation of the game. Every player, past and present, must be interviewed, every allegation pursued. The police forces of all the cricket-playing countries must be encouraged to crack down on illegal bookies. Unlike football or basketball, cricket is played in only a few countries, so a worldwide probe is not inconceivable. It will still be a huge enterprise, costing millions of dollars, but cricket boards like India's are flush with funds--they can afford it. If the administrators won't do it for the good of the sport, then perhaps they will to protect their own long-term financial interests. After all, if cricket is seen as crooked, the fans will stop watching and sponsors will take their money elsewhere.

- Lobby countries to legalize betting on cricket. People will wager on the sports they love, no matter what restrictions are put it their way. If totalitarian states like China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia can't stop illegal betting, then India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, et al don't have a prayer. Better to bring gambling out into the open and let governments tax it to the hilt. In quick order, the small, shady bookies will be replaced by large, transparent gaming companies that wouldn't dare try to fix games for fear of losing their licenses. The British have learned that from experience. It's time they taught the others.

- Finally, impose the most painful punishment in the world of sport on players (and administrators) found guilty of taking money from bookies. Show those namby-pambies at the IOC and FIFA how to deal with bent sportsmen--slap them with lifetime bans, huge fines and, where the laws allow it, jail time. But that's not all. Players found guilty of match-fixing should also have their names purged from the record books. It should be as if they never existed.

For updates on the Cronje scandal see AsiaNow Sports Home, or follow the story directly by visiting Hansiegate: ICC chief pledges to deal severely with gambling (Wednesday April 12, 2000)

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