The virus of match fixing seems to be spreading rapidly. In cricket this malady has surfaced from time to time and now in tennis too it is being witnessed with greater frequency. Last week the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) imposed bans on six players for their involvement in match fixing which was proved in a Spanish court. Shockingly the players were convicted as part of a wider case that involved the local mafia and organised crime.
The six players are Marc Fornell, Jorge Vidri, Carlos Ortega, Jamie Ortega, Marcos Tarralbo and Pedro Bernabe Franco. The CEO of the ITIA, Mr. Jonny Gray remarked that this case was one of the most significant infiltrations of tennis by well organized criminals. He expressed satisfaction that the investigation had been brought to a successful conclusion and he hoped that it would send the right message to players in the future.
Cricket was once known as a gentleman’s game where national honour was paramount. But over the years, as money came flooding into the game, those old principles got eroded. Greed for money has led to match fixing and ball tampering. We may witness even greater misdeeds in the future. Even the great legends of the game have fallen prey to the lure of money. Sometimes they have been trapped into cooperation by unscrupulous bookmakers.
In his autobiography titled No Spin the Australian leg spinner Shane Warne (now no more) wrote a detailed account of how he was approached and trapped by a bookmaker known as John (maybe a false name). In 1994 when Warne went to Sri Lanka to take part in a series, one night he went to a casino and ran up a loss of 5000 dollars. At the casino he also found teammate Mark Waugh with a local person who introduced himself as John. The first meeting was just a five minute conversation. Warne says that at the time he had not heard of match fixing, bookies or anything illegal in the game.
The next day Warne got a phone call from John who invited him for lunch. After the meal, John offered to pay the 5000 dollars that Warne had lost in the casino. Warne hesitated but John assured him that he was a very rich man and it was a small amount for him. Besides, he was a big fan of Warne and wanted to help his favourite cricketer. So, with some reluctance, Warne took the money.
That was the beginning of the trap. Warne was now under an obligation to someone who had thrust himself upon him. Next was a cricket series against the West Indies and one morning Warne got a call from John again. It was a friendly chat on general cricket topics. It seemed to be casual conversation and light gossip. But unwittingly Warne revealed details about the pitch, weather conditions and his team to John.
After six months, during a tour of New Zealand, Warne was approached by the tour manager Ian McDonald who asked him if he knew anything about players accepting money to reveal details about the pitches to strangers. It was then that Warne realised that he had been lured into a trap. More investigations by Australian officials followed and finally Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were slapped with fines. But at the same time the Australian board decided to keep it an internal matter and did not reveal the episode to the media till a long time had passed.
Warne has also written about an incident in Pakistan involving cricketer Saleem Malik. At the end of the fourth day of the first Test in Karachi Pakistan was 155 for 3, needing 314 to win. That evening Warne got a phone call in his room from Malik. The latter asked for a face to face meeting and when Warne met him, Malik offered 2 lakh US dollars each to Warne and Tim May if they bowled badly and allowed Pakistan to at least draw the match the next day.
But Warne reported it to manager Bob Simpson who in turn alerted match referee John Reid of New Zealand. The match ended in an ironic victory for Pakistan. Despite trying their best, the Australians lost the match as Inzamam-ul-Haq batted brilliantly and took his team to a hard fought victory. After the match Salim Malik taunted Warne. “You should have taken the money. Now you lost the money as well as the match,” said Malik to Warne.
But needless to say the whole thing created a furore. After a lengthy investigation, Malik was banned for life. However, after about seven years his ban was lifted. But by then the best days of his career had ended. Since then, more incidents of match fixing and ball tampering have been witnessed. Well known cricketers from different countries have been penalised for dishonesty. No one can forget the case involving South African skipper Hansie Cronje.
The list is too long to be covered in one article. But such unsavoury incidents and crooked deals by top level players have besmirched the reputation of cricket in modern times. The only way to counter the spread of the malady is for ICC to increase its vigil and remain ever alert to quash malpractices by players and bookies. The same holds good for tennis, boxing, horse racing and other sports where the disease is being seen nowadays.