Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary Anurag Thakur on Wednesday reiterated the decision to not lift the life ban on tainted cricketers S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila — despite a Delhi court dropping spot-fixing charges against the trio.
While a lot of fans may have sympathy for the former Rajasthan Royals players who were embroiled in the IPL 6 scandal, the BCCI is completely within their rights to uphold the original ban. Firstly, because as an independent body they are justified in making their own decisions about the functioning of cricket as long as they're not in contravention of law.
Secondly, in legal terms, the players stand not guilty — but that is because courts cannot charge someone without adequate evidence that is valid under law. Indian law does not allow for sporting fraud and fixing matches to be termed as a criminal offence, so how can a court charge the cricketers at all?
As a Scroll article points out: "This was basically the judiciary’s point of contention – it never declared that Sreesanth and the others were not guilty of spot-fixing. It merely pointed out that there was not enough evidence to frame charges against them under the MCOCA, and hence set them free. And this is actually a good precedent – it might finally lead to the formation of a new law to tackle spot-fixing in India."
Take for example the Italian football match-fixing scandal which Aju John points to in this Firstpost article: 38 people, including 33 players (and 11 clubs), were arrested after investigators found them guilty of match-fixing (aggravated fraud). In the state trial however, all the accused were acquitted because Italian law did not provide for the offence of 'sporting fraud' at that time. Italy legislated to make "fraud in sports competitions" a crime in 1989.
Indian cricket is going through a similar scenario: Players may be charged by investigators but released by a court of law simply because there is no act under which the alleged wrong-doers can be punished. The Delhi Police accused the trio of criminal conspiracy, cheating by impersonation under IPC, and of offences under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). And that is where the Delhi Police may have erred.
Another Firstpost article gives a fair idea of the act: "(This is where) the draconian aspects of the Act helps the Delhi police take short cuts. The scary provisions of the Act make its job very easy: assumed guilt, denial of bail, long periods of detention even after filing the charge-sheet, longer periods of police custody and absolute impunity if it (the police) screws up."
But the problem is that if there's insufficient evidence to link the accused to an organised crime racket, then any court was always likely to drop the charges against the trio.
So Sreesanth and co may have escaped a criminal probe. But, the BCCI has carried out it's own investigation and Neeraj Kumar, the former Delhi Police chief who was heading the spot-fixing case who now heads BCCI's Anti-corruption and Security Unit, presented enough evidence to convince the body of the trio's involvement in spot fixing.
Even in the case of former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin, while he was never charged in a court of law for his alleged involvement in the match-fixing case in 1999-2000, he was banned by the BCCI. In fact, three retired judges were asked for their point of view on that case and they said there can't be a sustainable charge in a case of match-fixing in a court.
Adding weight to the BCCI's stand on the IPL 6 scandal is Ravi Sawani, who investigated the case for BCCI (and is not associated with the board now). "In the BCCI code, there is a specific offence of match-fixing and in the Indian law, there is no such specific provision. I can tell you that there was sufficient evidence that was considered by the disciplinary committee and based on that they came to a conclusion," he told Bangalore Mirror.
Sreesanth and his former Rajasthan Royals teammates walked because under Indian law match-fixing is not a crime. But under the BCCI's code, match-fixing (cheating, spot-fixing, purposeful underperformance etc.) is an offence — which means if the board is convinced that the players are wrong, there is nothing to stop them from continuing the ban. Thakur's announcement today only confirms that.