Govt cannot let issues relating to unchecked growth of sports leagues fester; urgent need to put match-fixing genie back in bottle

 Govt cannot let issues relating to unchecked growth of sports leagues fester; urgent need to put match-fixing genie back in bottle

These are reminders we could have done without. The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) anti-corruption unit (ACU) has filed a First Investigation Report (FIR) with the Bengaluru Police against two persons for allegedly making an approach to a member of the Indian women’s cricket team and that it is investigating corruption in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL).

Neither is happy news, though the fact that the players have reported corrupt approaches is indeed welcome. And, both are part of the frequent alarm calls that are ringing out against predators seeking the unsuspecting and gullible. The mushrooming of leagues across the country, some of which are televised, leaves scope for the netherworld to manipulate events within their contests.

For years, we have been hearing that Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports would helm a law against sports fraud. It is time this moves from the sub-consciousness of the leadership and the drawing boards in bureaucratic offices to becoming a reality. If players are being approached with impunity, especially in such leagues, it is time for the government to wield the whip.

For long, successive dispensations have only been standers-by, paying little attention and only lip-service to the scourge of match-fixing, even as the illegal betting market has grown. As per a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) working paper, the size of this market in India is approximately Rs 3,00,000 crore a year. Precious little has been done to regulate this market and gain control of this money.

We would be digressing if we start speaking of how even if a mere 1 per cent of this amount flows back into the Indian sports ecosystem, there would be sufficient money for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to fund both the elite and grassroots programmes of the country. We should leave debating the pros and cons of such an argument to another day.

It is important that the powers that be understand the urgent need for India to get a law against match-fixing and act quickly. There have been enough and more instances in the last two decades of bookies trying to exert their influence on events within a match for India to ignore the perils any longer. And, they have extended their presence to the State Leagues, too.

Back in 2001, when the CBI investigated match-fixing in Indian cricket, its legal adviser analysed the provisions of Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 120 - A dealing with criminal conspiracy and IPC section 415 dealing with cheating. He concluded that the facts in the case did not constitute an offence under the aforesaid sections of law.

Harish Salve, the then Solicitor General of India, was in broad agreement that no criminal charges under cheating or under the Gambling Act can be filed against anyone because of the nebulous position of law as well as the improbability of investigating agency being able to obtain sufficient legal evidence.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports must soon team up with the Ministries of Law and Home to have a deterrent in place. Even while waiting for a Bill to criminalise match-fixing to be enacted, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports can issue a notification (after due consultation with Law Commission) to punish those found guilty of attempting to alter outcomes in sporting contests.

Nearly two decades ago, when the curse of Y2K affected Indian cricket – and world cricket – the then Minister for Sports promised a law against corruption in sport. Had such a law been in force, we may not have seen the unchecked growth of sports leagues across various disciplines in the country. The genie must be put in the bottle before it gets worse.

More than five years ago, the international sports community brought pressure on government to have an up to date law that criminalises, among other things, the scourge of match-fixing. And it seemed India would finally enact legislation against corruption in sport, preventing a repeat of the shameful instanced of fixing that reared their heads in 2000 and in Indian Premier League (IPL) 2013.

“All sports will benefit from such legislation since law enforcement agencies and sports federations have been stumped by legal loopholes, if not the lack of regulatory laws themselves,” Paul Abbot, Chairman of Interpol-FIFA Integrity in Sport initiative, told us at a workshop on Tackling Match Fixing and Corruption in Delhi.

Yet, despite showing such promise, there is no regulation yet against corruption in sport.

If National Sports Federations can be regulated through the National Sports Development Code of India, 2011, there is no reason for the Ministry to not add an annexure against corruption in sport. All it takes is political will for government to bring in a simple set of regulations, empowering agencies to investigate and lay charges, and tribunals to make considered decisions.

At another level, it is imperative that government establishes a Sports League Regulatory Authority of India that can ensure that a vetting of potential owners of franchises becomes mandatory in sporting leagues at all levels. The rise in the number of televised sports leagues only increases the scope for the unscrupulous to attempt corrupting sporting competition.

It is a good wager (pun intended) that fans of Indian sport will hope that the competitions that they patronise, sports that drive their emotions, heroes that they idolise, will remain pure and beyond the influence of the dark. It should be, therefore, easy for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to place essential checks and balances for sport to be what it appears to be. Pure and simple.

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Updated Date: Sep 17, 2019 08:55:51 IST