PARTAB RAMCHAND | 1 JULY, 2020
Make Match-Fixing a Criminal Offence - Steve Richardson
Links to the chain
As one who has always felt strongly that those involved in match-fixing in this country get away lightly thanks to lax and outdated laws I was overjoyed to read the views of both Steve Richardson, the coordinator of investigations at the ICC’s anti-corruption unit (ACU) and Ajit Singh the head of the BCCI’s ACU on the subject.
While Richardson has the strong belief that making match-fixing a criminal offence will be the ``single most effective thing’’ for sport in India, Singh even as he concurred with this view added that India needs a ``very strong law’’ against betting which is the source of corruption in cricket in India.
The warning is timely for India are scheduled to host two global marquee events in the next three years – the 2021 T-20 World Cup followed by the ODI World Cup in 2023 – and Richardson urged the Indian government to consider creating a match fixing law for sport.
Last year Sri Lanka became the first major cricket playing country in South Asia to criminalize match-fixing with punishments including a ten-year prison sentence after investigations that found several Lankan cricketers guilty of breaching the corruption code.
At the moment with no legislation in place the Indian police with whom the ACU is working with in a bid to curb corruption are operating with one hand tied behind their back. That is why Richardson feels that legislation to make match-fixing a criminal offence would be a game-changer. ``We have currently just under 50 investigations and the majority of these have links to corrruptors in India. It would be the single most effective thing to happen in terms of protecting sport if India introduces the legislation.’’
Richardson is convinced that more than the players, the law would deter the corruptors. He was frank enough to state that he could actually deliver to the Indian police at least eight names of people who are serial offenders, constantly approaching players to try and get them to fix matches.
But because of the lack of legislative framework in India there is little the police can do. ``To that extent they have my sympathy because they are trying hard to make the existing legislation work but the reality is it wasn’t framed with sports corruption in mind.’’
It is this loophole that cricketers and bookies have taken advantage of and are able to move about freely even if they are found to be guilty by investigative bodies and banned. They have gone to court, got the bans lifted and continue to hold either high offices in politics or cricket associations or appear in movies and TV shows.
According to Richardson the players are not the main problem when it comes to match-fixing. They are the final link in the chain which actually goes out on to the pitch and perform any act if they had agreed to do so. ``The problem I see is further upstream and it is the people who are organizing the corruption, people who are paying the players the money who should be mainly targeted.’’
To support his stance, Richardson provided the example of the Bribery Act in the UK, which was used to prosecute former Pakistan batsman Nasir Jamshed, who pleaded guilty to charges of bribery in the PSL. Jamshed was handed a 17-month sentence in February by a Manchester court. In 2010, the Pakistan trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were prosecuted under the 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act which was repealed by the Bribery Act.
According to Singh there is no adequate law to cover match-fixing which both the Indian government and the courts have recognized previously in dealing with such cases. He is firmly of the view that there is a requirement for a law which criminalizes match fixing, the roots of which lie in betting which he describes as ``a malaise’’ in India.
Singh pointed out that the corrupters were not just operating in international sport, but were also busy influencing players and matches in domestic cricket with some even posing as "godfathers" to young players. He said the BCCI's ACU had used data agencies to examine the extent of betting in some T20 matches in Indian domestic cricket. "It's not just the IPL, but even the leagues run by State associations. The amount of betting even in small matches is so much that the temptation to fall prey to the demands or requests of these people is very high. And it is more so with people who don't see much of a future for themselves. Cricket is played in rural areas and small towns and there are certain godfathers who finance them. They see a promising player, finance him, become his patron, and ultimately what happens is when he is at a level where his games are televised, where he has made it to a certain league, then they extract the pound of flesh. So it needs to be curbed heavily, both at the match-fixing and betting level."
As it happens betting is illegal in India, but Singh pointed out it is governed by a law that is "laughable" in its current form. The law is the 1867 Public Gambling Act. Those breaching it barely blink an eye, Singh said, with only a cursory monetary penalty to pay. "We need to make a very strong law against betting. Right now the law that exists is totally archaic and the punishments are laughable.’’
It is clear then that the Gambling Act ought to be replaced as soon as possible but Richardson pointed out that betting and corruption should be seen as separate only because betting was legal in many countries. "We have to be very clear here that betting itself is not corruption. What is corruption is people who are trying to get to players to corrupt them in order to make money from betting."
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