An end to match fixing
are the days when sport used to be pure. Winning or losing was not the
focus of the game - at the end of the day, all it mattered was whether
you played fairly. Today, with television rights money overflowing for
many sports, money has become the main focus of both players and sports
bodies. There is no doubt that television and sponsorship rights have
bolstered all sports, but the downside is that sport in general has
become heavily commercialised.
Betting on sports, both legal and illegal, has become a big business
worldwide. With 24/7 satellite sports channels beaming every sport
around the world, it is literally globalised too. One can walk into a
so-called 'turf accountant' office in Sri Lanka and place a bet on a
horse race in England. A punter in Zimbabwe can bet on a cricket match
being played in Abu Dhabi. The next step then becomes almost inevitable
- match fixing by betting syndicates and racketeers to change the
results and/or performances according to the betting demand. It has
become a global criminal enterprise.
Cricket is often described as a gentleman's game, but of late it has
been scandalised by repeated allegations of match fixing. Cricket, with
its unique structure and playing patterns, has also given rise to
another variation of match fixing - spot fixing, whereby players are
influenced to perform in a certain way to match the expectations of
punters. For example, player A would be requested (with a handsome
monetary reward in tow) to, say, make less than 25 runs and player B
would be told to drop a catch off player C. But spot-fixing can happen
in other sports too - a footballer can be asked to concede a throw-in or
a tennis player to lose a service game by double faulting.
Both forms of fixing matches have ruined the game(s) we love, because
spectators are engaged in a guessing game on whether a given match has
been 'fixed' or not. Whenever their favourite side loses an important
match, most spectators dejectedly say that it has been 'fixed'. Match
fixing apparently affects not only international matches, but also
domestic sports fixtures which receive worldwide attention and
television coverage. For example, Cricket South Africa said the
investigation into corruption in its domestic Ram Slam twenty20
competition could run for 'weeks, months or years' after the former
international Gulam Bodi admitted attempting to fix matches and was
given a 20-year ban from cricket.
Cricket in Sri Lanka has also come under the microscope of the
International Cricket Council's (ICC) tough Anti-Corruption Unit, which
is striving to rid the game of this ugly blight of match fixing. In
fact, the ICC has already suspended a local stadium curator who failed
to attend their meetings two times in a row. Sports Minister Dayasiri
Jayasekara and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) too have realised the gravity of
the situation and taken several steps to investigate allegations of
SLC has suspended two officials who had allegedly tried to influence
players to fix a Test against the West Indies. Reports say the fee
offered was Rs.10 million to engineer a batting collapse. Fortunately,
no Sri Lankan cricketer has been involved in this scam and the efforts
of the 'fixers' have not been successful. Captain Angelo Mathews has
appeared before the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) to
give a statement on this issue. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has
also endorsed the action of SLC, saying all corruption allegations
should be probed to clear the good name of Sri Lankan cricketers.
Indeed, the SLC, which recently got a new administration, must leave
no stone unturned to find the truth and end the scourge of match fixing.
This will also be an example to all budding cricketers who dream about
playing for the national side some day. The SLC must team up with the
ICC and all other Test playing nations (players from a number of other
countries have been implicated) in this exercise.
It will be very difficult to eradicate match fixing totally, as long
as commercial interests override the very essence and purity of the
game. Unlike in the early days, today's cricket players are handsomely
remunerated via yearly contracts and granted substantial match fees,
apart from lucrative sponsorship and advertising deals.
There really is no need to go after other avenues of making money,
because many of the off-field contracts last well beyond a given
player's playing years.
There have been instances of Sri Lankan players eschewing previously
arranged bilateral Test series and opting to play in the lucrative
Indian Premier League (IPL) and other such events. This was a sad
instance of money taking precedence over country.
A player who is more focused on making money than playing for his
country could well be a target of match fixers. Players must be told in
no uncertain terms that the country should always come before self, no
matter how much money can be earned through other commitments,
especially those that clash with national duties.
Match fixing has become a global crisis affecting nearly all
professional sports from soccer to tennis. The latter is the latest
sport to suffer from match fixing allegations after an explosive BBC
News/Buzzfeed news report published recently. The cancer of match
fixing, called by some commentators as 'sports crime' deserves a global
response. Sports will lose their integrity - and fans - if what happens
on the field is no longer "real" and has been manipulated by gambling
syndicates. For starters, betting companies must not be allowed to
sponsor sports events and telecasts or name sports trophies after them.
It has also been suggested to appoint autonomous bodies to handle sport
integrity issues instead of letting the sports bodies police themselves.
Major sports bodies such as ICC, FIFA and Association of Tennis
Professionals must get together to nab the culprits (both players and
gambling bosses) and address the match fixing issue before the beautiful
world of sport is forever blighted by those who succumb to temptation