By Humayun Gauhar
We live in a very convoluted world where thieving is fine as long as you can get away with it. The ‘crime’ is to get caught. The biggest crime of our cricketers was to get caught.
Fast bowlers Mohammed Asif and young Mohammed Aamir took bribes to deliberately bowl predetermined ‘no balls’ with captain Salman Butt part of the scam. It was called ‘fancy fixing’ once, now it is ‘spot fixing’. They were found guilty by a British Crown Court and got what they had coming. They thought they were enabling some punters to make oodles of money, not knowing that they had being inveigled by an even more corrupt newspaper to get a juicy story, helped along by their greedy agent. That was their second big mistake.
An honest writer, however, must have balance even if justice does not. Justice is single-minded, its methodology limited. It is imperative to go behind the media frenzy and pious comments to see how far the malaise has spread in world cricket establishments, governments, rulers and society at large. The malaise infects the weakest link in the illegal betting chain for which the undoubtedly guilty cricketers took a convenient fall. Convenient because they unwittingly took the spotlight away from the sources of the crime – the illegal betting syndicates and their rich, powerful patrons.
Problem is, there are many more cricketers and athletes who should be punished too, but not many are or get away with a mild rap on the knuckles. This includes match and spot fixing in lesser domestic matches the world over, in nearly every sport. Why? One: because the culprits are ‘superstars’ that pull the crowds and big bucks TV. Two: because the possibility that punished cricketers might sing and sink them all is a nightmare. If that happens they would have to be silenced somehow, even killed, which is a messy business. Recall how South Africa’s captain Hansie Cronje paid for it with his life, killed in a private plane crash that conventional wisdom regards as deliberate. Or how one of Pakistan’s most famous bookies, ‘Hanif Cadbury’ was killed in South Africa and his body hacked to pieces?
Sure some athletes have taken the fall, but not many. A few have been banned for life, but only when it became inevitable. Corrupt sportsmen have existed before, exist now and will continue to exist given human nature and the attraction of the Golden Calf. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and kill the disease instead of just its symptoms.
If the biggest mistake of our cricketers was to get caught, their other big mistakes were to trust their agent, get caught virtually red handed leaving a trail of video evidence, get caught in the wrong place where justice is ‘blinder’ than in most countries, and commit the crime in a country where its media have been itching to ‘get’ Pakistani cricketers since Waseem and Waqar humiliated England in England in the eighties with their reverse swing. Media there are so ‘free’ that immoral ‘sting’ operations are not only allowed but also condoned, even if done by an odious newspaper that has since bitten the dust because of illegal phone hacking.
Yes, when it comes to phone and social media hacking justice takes an about turn: how pray is phone hacking any worse than sting operations in which they exploit the weaknesses of people, in this case one who had not even achieved majority, and seducing them into doing wrong? They overlook the obvious, that every person has a price tag; the only question is how much and what form of payment will seduce him – the poorer and more uneducated the cheaper. For example, even the most moral person will break if his child is kidnapped for ransom and pay the price to obtain its release. In this convoluted world, kidnapping for ransom is illegal, phone hacking is illegal but immoral seduction that goes by the name of ‘sting operation’ is not? Some justice.
The foregoing in no way mitigates the crime of the three cricketers. But what it cries out for is a comprehensive investigation into cricket’s officialdom – the ICC, cricket boards and their personnel, managers and assistant managers, coaches and assistant coaches, the betting syndicate’s headquarters in Bombay with branches the world over. Investigate parliamentarians, ministers, businessmen, lawyers and even some sports journalists everywhere to get to the bottom of the malaise. Investigate the impotence of the ICC in the face of undue Indian ingress and influence. How, for example, did the ‘purists’ of the ICC legitimize the ridiculous IPL that is better known as ‘Indian Paisa Laundering’, custom-made for illegal betting and ruining techniques? I’m told it raised $50 billion last year? Second only to the scams of banks, what? You will never eradicate corruption by so doing, but you will certainly lessen it.
Those that speak the truth are trashed. When a star like Sarfraz Nawaz raises alarms he is labeled a ‘nut’ because he speaks Urdu (and English) in Bhati Gate Punjabi. Surprising how Rashid Latif, Basit Ali and Aamir Sohail have been crying wolf for years but have not yet been labeled ‘conspiracy theorists’ like all truth tellers are. Why was the Justice Qayyum Commission report ignored? He named certain superstars who should never be allowed near a cricket field yet the Pakistan Cricket Board gives most of them lucrative jobs that put them in such close proximity to young, impressionable cricketers in awe of them that they are in danger of being polluted. What lessons do young cricketers learn then: that if superstars can get away with it, why can’t they; if the country’s leadership can be corrupt top down and yet gets crowned again and again, why can’t they? The whole thing is ridiculous and criminal. It seems that the most important item on the agendas of all national and international cricket authorities is to somehow ensure that money keeps flowing via the illegal betting syndicates.
Once when my friend Izzat Majeed was flying PIA from London to Lahore, nothing on the plane was working. When the food tray of the Pakistani-British passenger sitting next to him fell on his lap, he turned to Izzat and declared plaintively, “Vaat is airline, that is country.” Similarly, “Vaat is cricket, that is country” – not just Pakistani but the whole jing-bang lot. The quick buck culture has overtaken everything, which is why the world’s economic and political systems are in meltdown. Why not cricket, once a ‘gentlemen’s game’ that has now become a casino? Money, big money, has hijacked the people’s game.