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Why fixing in cricket isn't going to stop anytime soon

It is now clear that the Delhi Police came across the alleged spot-fixing racket in the IPL by accident. It was the same way in 1999-2000, when match-fixing in the modern era was the first exposed. The 2010 sting that led to three Pakistan players being jailed was pulled off by a British tabloid, since shut down. And last year’s IPL sting –this is the second time fixing has been alleged in the IPL yet the board still seems surprised by the revelations – was conducted by a television channel.

All these incidents have one thing in common – none of them were uncovered by the ICC and its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, or by any of the domestic boards. And only in one case – that of the Pakistan players – was anyone sent to jail.

A Times of India report yesterday pegged the illegal betting market around the IPL at a conservative estimate of Rs 5000 crore. It also said it could be as large as Rs 40,000 crore. That’s larger than the legitimate estimated value of the IPL itself.

 Why fixing in cricket isnt going to stop anytime soon

It is not only unrealistic to expect the ICC or the ECB to be able to police every single game, it is impossible. Reuters

Put the two facts together and the inescapable conclusion is that fixing is not likely to stop anytime soon. Sure, there might be a lull in the wake of an expose like this one. Bookies and punters will lie low until the scrutiny and the attention wane and move on to the next big story. And then they will be back. The market is too big, the money too great, the potential rewards too easy and the risk of exposure and punishment far too low to deter everyone permanently. After all, if that were the case, the arrests of the Pakistan players should have put an end to fixing. But three men going to jail over a dozen years? That’s not much of a deterrent.

To be fair, the ACSU is limited in its powers. It is not a law enforcement agency. It cannot tap phones or conduct stings (it would amount to entrapment). There is also the risk of alienating players if the players feel they cannot trust the ACSU. So the most the ACSU can do is educate and warn the players, provide a secure environment so the players feel comfortable to report advances, and keep a close eye on matches. Again, they are limited in terms of manpower and cannot have eyes everywhere.

In March, the Daily Mail reported that England's professional cricketers were warned “that the domestic game is being targeted by illegal bookmakers to the tune of nearly £900million a season.” According to the paper, limited-overs games that were televised attracted as much as £16m per match. Such a large market is not about to be shut down overnight.

It is not only unrealistic to expect the ICC or the ECB to be able to police every single game, it is impossible. It is the players who have to take responsibility. In the case spot-fixing case involving Essex, Mervyn Westfield and Danish Kaneria last year, it turned out that Kaneria had been talking openly in the Essex dressing room about people willing to pay money to influence matches, yet no one reported that to the ECB. He has since been given a life ban from cricket, but that still doesn’t stop him from continuing to offer money to others.

The flaw is, of course, that those tempted to take money will not report approaches. It is only the threat of severe punishment that will deter them. Ed Hawkins, the author of Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy, told Firstpost that fixing needs to be criminalised in India so that the threat of jail time makes players think twice. Australia is already working on just such a law. It is naive to think it will eliminate fixing entirely. Just as it is impossible to eliminate corruption in society, it is impossible to fully eradicate fixing from the game. But stronger consequences can, and will, act as a deterrant.

Right now though, that is not how things work. After the investigations in 2000, Mohammad Azharuddin was given a life ban while Ajay Jadeja was banned for five years by the BCCI. Both not only eventually had their bans overturned in court, Azhar went on to become a Member of Parliament while Jadeja is now a paid cricket expert on television.

With these sorts of consequences, it should be no surprise that the fixing will go on.

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Updated Date: May 18, 2013 21:06:10 IST