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“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozlement. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken for a ride. Once you give a fraud the power, you almost never get it back” Carl Sagan, American astronomer and author. The Delhi police on 16th May arrested three Rajasthan Royals players for allegations of spot-fixing. The three players were S Sreesanth (a Test cricketer), Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan. Later that day, as events unfolded and pressure grew on BCCI to respond, N Srinivasan, the board president, hastily set up a video conference, where he kept on repeating the two words over and over again. The two of his words were ‘sad’ and ‘shocked’. One can understand he was sad, but to say he was shocked, he was clearly being naïve. As the saying goes, unless you acknowledge a problem, you won’t be able to solve it. Clearly he was not serving anyone’s purpose by living in a denial mode. You cannot break what has not been fixed. We are talking about the credibility or the purity of cricket here. It was never quite cleansed from the taint of corruption that inevitably takes the game to the dark side and leaves the lovers of the game with little to defend. Shock, therefore, went off the table a long time ago. One is hurt and disappointed by the events that unfolded in the IPL. But do I find the revelations of spot-fixing sensational and mind-boggling? The answer is a clear no. That shock had sailed over a decade ago with the fixing scandal that gripped the sub-continent and South African cricket in the late 90s. Each subsequent incident has only further sharpened that belief. For instance, take this recent tweet from former England captain Michael Vaughan into account: “Spot fixing in the IPL…. Not the most surprising News I have heard today…” He said, adding his usual sarcasm. The tournament has flirted with a never-ending string of problems ever since its inception. It has somehow managed to handle most, but struggled with the perception battle that it seems they will never be able to win. This is just the kind of setback that the IPL did not need, but I don’t believe that the event had too much of a hand in creating it. Corruption is deep-rooted in the sport, not just cricket, and needs a much-wider cleaning up process than just blaming it on the IPL. When Hansie Cronje admitted to fixing, the IPL was not there. It was not there when the infamous Lord’s spot-fixing scandal took place. At the moment, we are searching for scapegoats, and in the form of the IPL it is readily available, but truth be told, in a country which loves to bet, from politics to cricket and even how much rain would fall in the monsoon, solutions lie somewhere else.
Is legalizing the betting an option, the Way ahead?
The answer is in affirmative. I will back my argument with two instances from two other sports. It was the city of Antalya, Turkey, known for its picturesque beaches that played host to a friendly double-header, on a midweek freezing night in February 2011. The matches were Estonia versus Bulgaria followed by Bolivia versus Latvia — a couple of friendly games off little significance. There would be about 100 or so fans passed in the stadium that evening, but some interesting developments took place elsewhere, this double-header was followed online with a little more interest. Well actually make that with a lot more interest. On several registered betting websites, online punters had placed about $13 million on these two inconsequential matches, suspicion arose because a lot of money was riding on there being at least three goals in both the fixtures. If that wasn’t strange enough, the referee awarded four penalties in the first match which resulted in Bulgaria and Estonia finishing 2-2, much to everyone’s delight, I guess! In the second game, as Bolivia led Latvia 2-0 (surprise, surprise both were penalties), the referee awarded a spot-kick to Latvia. But when the penalty-taker missed it, the ref mysteriously ordered him to retake it, this time he did the honors, the Result- both the matches ended with at least three goals. For havens sake, these sites being independent bodies with clean reputations to maintain, most of them alerted FIFA’s top cop Chris Eaton. Eaton in turn alerted Sports radar, a company in London that monitors over 300 registered betting sites to check for unusual behavior in the market. Sports radar also has an agreement in place with FIFA to share such information. Legalized betting, as a result in this case, played a crucial role than expected to nail the biggest bookie football has ever seen, a Singapore based businessman called Wilson Raj Perumal, a man who fixed well over a 100 football matches across five continents. In February 2011 Perumal was arrested in Finland and later sentenced to two years in prison during which Perumal spoke to Finnish authorities and confessed a network of global match-fixers based in Singapore. The second one was now the infamous incident that brought the Tennis into disrepute back in August 2007. In a little known clay court event held in Poland, the then World No.4 Nikolay Davydenko was expected thrash his little known Argentine opponent, the 87th ranked at the time, Martin Vassallo Arguello, in the second round. Only, a few punters on Betfair, the world’s largest gambling website, did not agree. On this UK based gambling site, three punters with accounts in Russia placed $2 million on the line backing the underdog, Arguello. As a result the algorithms in Betfair went barmy, pointing clearly at the there was something fishy. Even though Davydenko won the first set 6-2, more and more punts entered the Betfair fold, staking the total punts close to $5 million on an Arguello win. Davydenko lost the next 3-6, and later pulled out of the final set citing injury. Kudos to Betfair, they ignored their 5 per cent commission fee and acted in an unprecedented manner, decided to suspend the wagers on the match. Later, the company’s managing director Mark Davies instantly informed ATP that: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that some people knew something.” Davies had later told ESPN in an interview. “Davydenko was comfortably winning, and there was talk on our forum that something was going to go wrong, the wheels were going to come off somehow.” Betfair’s support kicked off tennis’s first of a kind, murkier and the longest match-fixing trial. Putting things into perspective, back home more than tennis or football, cricket has been weighed down by match-fixing, with India lies at the epicenter of these corrupt activities. But because betting is illegal in India, there were hardly any punishments severed out. At best BBCI can’t do more than splashing out life-bans to those players first caught in the game’s first such scandal at the turn of the century. The above illustrations lead us to move in direction of legalize betting in our country and bring it under the regulatory control of its government. Yes it will provide Government will get revenue and all but the best thing that can happen after Institutionalizing betting is that it helps take the control out of the hands of the street-level players and on to more measurable and easily traceable media such as these online sites or betting shops. Moreover the modus operandy for sites such as Betfair takes away power from the bookies and hand it to Punters, so odds get more spread out. People will argue the case of England against my argument that what about the tainted Pakistani trio indulging in spot fix where Betting is legalized? Well, to take them head-on I would say, the three players were charged by the UK’s court for ‘conspiracy to cheat at gambling,’ and are forced to serve out jail terms of varying degree. Jail terms will, in all likelihood, be dished out for the IPL spot fixing trio as well, but not because ‘the rotten eggs from the Rajasthan Royals’ (these are the words of BCCI president N Srinivasan, not mine) were cheating the betting public of their money (remember, it’s illegal in this country), but because their wire were tapped incidentally as initially Delhi Police were looking for those indulging in anti-national activities. According to a former ICC chief, Ehsan Mani, perhaps the most effective method to remove these elements from cricket is to legitimize the betting industry in India. In an interview with a reputed Indian newspaper last year, Ehsan Mani clearly stated: “Unless the betting industry is brought under control in India, you can’t stop match-fixing.” He further added: “After legalization, you’ll find that the risk of corrupting players would have reduced significantly.”