Ah, Another Scandal In Another Sport, But This One We Americans Don’t Care About

Mazher Mahmood and Amanda Evans at News Of The World:

In the most sensational sporting scandal ever, bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif delivered THREE blatant no-balls to order.

Their London-based fixer Mazhar Majeed, who let us in on the betting scam for £150,000, crowed “this is no coincidence” before the bent duo made duff deliveries at PRECISELY the moments promised to our reporter.

Armed with our damning dossier of video evidence, Scotland Yard launched their own probe into the scandal.

Last night three players – captain Salman Butt, and bowlers Amir and Asif hade their mobile phones seized by officers.

Trevor Chesterfield at Island Cricket:

From the time they were exposed as cheats four years ago over the ball tampering issue at The Oval, there has been a growing stench about modern Pakistan cricket -which has developed the habit of eschewing openness and with it, integrity.

That was a moment when Darrell Hair, and the strict and fair umpiring levels employed, were questioned by those who knew they had been fiddling with the ball; then they lied about it to escape being shown up as villains in a dishonest caper, all against the tenets of fair play.

With such a background, it should surprise no one that such Luddites as these have again openly displayed how their management is as dysfunctional, maladjusted and incompetent as it has been since the early 1990s. Ijaz Butt, the current president of the Pakistan Cricket Board is as fundamentally flawed in his administration as he was over the disastrous terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team’s bus in Lahore in March 2009. In the latest series of events in England, bowlers are said to have been involved in a no-ball betting scam. It is the tip of an unsavoury pile of garbage that has been collecting on its doorstep unmonitored for years -that has only become worse post Ijaz Butt, a pretentious Test player whose one moment of fame on the field was as a substitute.

In Pakistan’s first tour of the West Indies in 1957-58, during the third Test in Kingston, Jamaica, Butt managed to run out Conrad Hunte for 260 in his partnership of 446 with Sir Garfield Sobers for the second wicket. Sobers went in to score the then world record of 365 not out in a West Indies total of 790 for three, declared. Recalling the incident, the warm-hearted Hunte said how he and Sobers had forgotten Butt had been brought on for Saeed Ahmed, who had temporarily gone off for minor finger injury repairs.

Butt, in his new avatar, says that without “proof”, there will be no suspension of players. Such an interesting premise he has adopted here, as Pakistan try to cover with bluff and jingoism their already tarnished image.

Geoff Lemon at The Roar:

Like ‘hero’, the word ‘tragedy’ is thrown around all too easily in modern sportswriting. But if, as seems likely, the damning allegations against several Pakistan cricketers prove to be true, it will be a genuine tragedy for their nation and the sport as a whole.

Pakistan’s most common tag in the media is ‘troubled’. Its decade of instability due to religious extremism, including the exile of international cricket, has been capped off by the massive floods of recent weeks. The millions left homeless would have been looking to their team’s performance in England for some kind of solace or escape.

Captain Salman Butt delivered a win in the third Test against England, and dedicated it to his people.

But a few days later that intent had been cast aside, as the fourth and final Test was subsumed by the latest and most wide-ranging match-fixing scandal in Pakistan’s history.

The News of the World may not be the last word in top-quality journalism (with other headlines on its homepage including “Peggy Mitchell’s best bits” and “Elephant plays harmonica”), but the photos and recordings its undercover reporters made while posing as representatives for a gambling cartel make compelling evidence.

Mazhar Majeed, the UK agent for a number of Pakistani players, promised the reporters three no-balls in a day’s Test play, two from Mohammad Amir and one from Mohammad Asif, as proof the players had been bought and would follow directions.

The reporters would then be invited to pay for advance notice of rigged results in future matches. Aside from the bowlers, Majeed claimed to have seven players in his pocket, naming skipper Salman Butt and keeper Kamran Akmal.

A specific over and delivery was nominated for each no-ball. The next day, each was duly delivered right on time. “[He] will bowl according to any situation, or in such a way that the team requires him to bowl,” said Amir of his strike partner Asif in a recent interview.

Unfortunately this looked true in exactly the wrong kind of way.

Alex Massie:

There are different kinds of cheating and some offend us more than others. Cheating to win, while regrettable and reprehensible, is one thing, cheating to lose quite another. Few sports are entirely free of the former but the latter form of cheating is vastly more insidious since it undermines the whole point of the competition in the first-place.

That is, cheating to gain an advantage doesn’t guarantee victory but conspiring to throw a game is both easier (in some sports anyway) and makes a mockery of everything. That’s one reason why match-fixing in cricket is more offensive than, say, drug-taking in cycling. The same is true in horse-racing: doping to win is reprehensible but it doesn’t rob the public as surely as a non-trier does. It’s easier, perhaps, to prevent people from cheating to win than to stop cheating by losing deliberately.

There’s a policy aspect to this latest crisis too: prohibition does not work. At least some of the problems associated with spot-fixing are intimately connected to the fact that gambling on sports is an underground industry in India and Pakistan. A legal gambling industry – that is, one less in hock to and controlled by gangsters – would surely be better placed to combat this kind of corruption. Prohibition is far from the only villain but it certainly exacerbates the problem.

Primary responsibility lies with the players, of course, but the problems associated with cricket and gambling cannot be divorced from the nature of the betting industry on the sub-continent. Fixing that won’t solve everything but it would be a good place to start.

Mark Austin at The Mirror:

The simple fact is the players come from a culture where corruption is ingrained.

I say all this to explain the alleged behaviour of the players NOT to excuse it. And I say it too because it highlights the scale of the challenge facing the international cricket authorities.

If the allegations are proven, of course the players should be dealt with harshly.

If they are found guilty there should be a life ban for the captain Salman Butt.

The younger bowlers, who will have been leaned on and manipulated by unscrupulous scumbag middlemen, should, I think, get shorter sentences.

But this is the point. Life bans and heavy fines won’t solve anything.

The match fixers operating in the shadows will merely find other vulnerable, relatively poorly paid young stars to exploit.

What should happen is that the Pakistan Cricket Board must be made aware that if they don’t clean up their act the entire national team will be banned from international cricket altogether. Full stop.

Osman Samiuddin at The Guardian:

They are not as educated as the players who went before and, even if they were, consider that the public education system ceased producing quality long ago. Asif and Amir, like many others before them, landed up in the big time without connections, without any push and no money, nothing but their skill. That talent was spotted in a system, no matter how decrepit, but a system nonetheless. Both have since made a life for themselves in the big city; if that is not one by-product of democracy, the spotting and rewarding of merit, then what is? This is cricket as the one equaliser in a land of vast disparity.

The standard tale is that they come into more money than their families have seen in a lifetime – and quickly, too. They have more power than players of the past ever did; the modern board administrator is a clown, the modern player a public hero. They have more people watching them. They now need to bling it up. A fancy car, or three, is bought, a big house, maybe one for the family as well, who are also brought to the city. Other celebrities multiply around them. A girl, or three, appears on the scene. Suits are at them, wanting to put their faces up in brighter lights. Entire entourages grow around them, of extended families and drop-out friends, who have to be fed, clothed, kept and entertained. Muhammad Ali knew about them a long time ago.

These are not unique stories. They are everywhere; ghetto basketballers, working-class footballers, slum-town cricketers. Maybe cricket, currently trying to work out how much money it can make for itself, brings its own context. Money-making has become too serious a business in this business for it to be steered by transparency and accountability.

Perhaps Pakistan brings its own context, too. The impermanency of life here breeds a peculiar hoard mentality: get in quick, get rich quicker because you never know when you will be out forever, from a job, from politics, from a team. Over the past 10 years particularly, rampant consumerism has eaten away at urban Pakistan, which has long been sweet on ostentation in any case. Just having wealth is not enough. Showing people you have it is more important.

Moreover, gambling, even though illegal, is fine by most people. It is, some will argue, ingrained to an extent. A friend conducted a focus group of boys and young men recently on cricket and was shocked to learn that they were happily taking and placing bets on street matches.

And the Pakistan Cricket Board cannot be relied upon to handle an email, so handling the life and career of a boy is out of the question. They will not protect them from anyone; if fans, journalists, politicians and bookies want a piece of a player, the PCB do not get in the way. Neither have players here ever helped themselves; thrice efforts have been made to form a players’ association and thrice they have failed. It is the strongest indictment of a culture where every one is out for himself.

Nobody is there to warn young players of the ways of this new world they inhabit, because stardom in Pakistan really is the loneliest pursuit. And maybe it is not even as much about the rural-urban shift as much as it is a class shift, from making money to live to making money for money’s sake. Their place in life, in the grand unwieldy scheme of society, shifts visibly and firmly.

Yet too much can be made of their condition and too little of individual greed. Cricketers have come from places much smaller than Asif and Amir, from poorer backgrounds, and gone through entire lives – let alone a career – without a scandal to stain them.

Pakistan’s players do not get paid as much as counterparts around the world, it is being said. This is true. They have also missed out on the life-changing riches of the Indian Premier League. But at 250,000 rupees (£1,900), 175,000 rupees and 100,000 rupees per month in the three grades of the PCB’s central contracts, they are not paid peanuts. They live in Pakistan, not India, Australia or England, and in this country that kind of salary is seen by very, very few.

Add on match fees – roughly the same again as the monthly retainer – and on‑tour fees, board and personal endorsements, salaries from their first-class sides (which are run by organisations such as banks, airlines and power companies, offering the option of a stable, secure job after retirement), deals with counties and league clubs and now Twenty20 domestic sides, and most elite players really are kings of this land.

This is why the alleged leadership of Salman Butt is the most difficult aspect to grasp. Amir’s errors can too easily be explained by his youth and his background, and Asif has previous, having failed a drug test. But Butt? Whenever there is talk of him it is inevitably of his English-speaking and educated ways. He is a truly urban product, to a degree polished. “He’s been brought up well,” Bob Woolmer once said of him. Had he not been a cricketer, he could have been nine-to-fiving somewhere and who knows, his floppy locks might have got him into the music gig.

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