Ever since Sri Lanka’s shock defeat to Zimbabwe at home in July 2017, the Anti Corruption Unit of the International Cricket Council (ICC) has intensified investigations in the country and have unearthed some startling revelations. Since then, three former players have been charged.
While former captain Sanath Jayasuriya has been banned for two years for not cooperating with investigations and concealing information, two other ex-players — Nuwan Zoysa and Dilhara Lokuhettige — have been charged and professionally suspended. Both face the same charge — attempting to corrupt a player. However, there is a serious problem the investigators are encountering in their efforts to make the game clean in Sri Lanka.
Alex Marshall, the head of the ICC Anti Corruption Unit has been having extensive dialogue with the Sri Lankan government, particularly the Ministry of Sports and the Attorney General’s Department. All parties have agreed that making corruption in sports a criminal offence is the only way forward to chase away unscrupulous elements that attempt to corrupt games.
Some of the key factors to emerge during investigations were that those who were indirectly involved with the game were a bigger problem rather than the players. These individuals were also getting smarter. Bound by the Code of Conduct, they were not directly getting themselves involved in attempting to corrupt games. Instead, they were using third parties, who were not bound by the Code of Conduct, to achieve their means.
The Anti Corruption Unit of the ICC has faced some serious questions. While they could warn players about individuals who were a threat to the game, they could not take action against them. This is when they urged the government to take a leaf out of countries like Australia and England and criminalise corruption in the sport.
The Sports Ministry, within the next few weeks, is expected to table the proposal to the Cabinet and then it will be presented to the Parliament. This will make Sri Lanka the first Asian nation to criminalise corruption in sports. It will be called the Bill to Prevent Corrupting and Match-fixing in Sports. Severe punishments and penalties are recommended for those who are engaged in sports-related corruption with a maximum prison term of ten years and a maximum penalty of Rs 100 million being the heaviest. These offences will be tried at High Court.
After the recommendations become law, match-fixing, betting, gambling, passing on information, concealing information, refusal to cooperate with investigations and other actions that bring the game into disrepute become punishable by the law.
Jayasuriya is the most high profile case to be penalised so far by the ICC. He was the Chairman of Selectors during the Zimbabwe series. The fourth ODI in that series, played on the 8 July at Hambantota, has come under the microscope of the investigators. Zimbabwe won that game via the DLS method but this game has not received a clean chit from investigators.
The investigators have identified a lady who is in her mid-40s and have marked her as the person who has done the biggest damage to Sri Lankan cricket. Connected to a bookie in India, she is said to have had sexual relationships with close to a dozen Sri Lankan cricketers. When the ICC two months ago announced an amnesty for players to report incidents that had been previously not reported, the image of this lady, her local accomplice and the Indian bookie were distributed among players and this helped investigators to unearth new leads.
Investigations are continuing with the ICC placing one of its officers in Colombo to clean up the mess. Recently, SLC recruited two retired military officers to police local games as well.
Despite their stunning Test series win in South Africa recently, Sri Lankan cricket overall has hit new lows in recent times, particularly in limited overs cricket.
Sri Lanka narrowly earned automatic qualification for this year’s World Cup but have been forced to play the qualification round of next year’s T20 World Cup after they finished ninth in the rankings. For a team that won both the 50-over and 20-over World Cups and reached the finals of both events on four occasions in the last 12 years, the current predicament doesn’t augur well.
With a cloud hanging over their recent performances, Sri Lankan cricket has faced numerous challenges as fans and sponsors have turned their back on the game. SLC were unable to conduct the annual awards last year as the sponsors, who had tied up for over a decade, pulled out. The team sponsor has shown reluctance to continue their deal after it ends following the World Cup and the signs are not good for SLC.
All those who support Sri Lankan cricket and want it to thrive would be hoping that the proposed new laws to counter corruption will help them to overcome challenges and clean up the game. The proposed new laws are expected to close the loopholes and take on the corrupt elements which do not come under the purview of the Code of Conduct.