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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Howard may be the right man afterall

Outrage, speculation and the Pakistani cricket team all seem to go hand-in-hand. In the past we have seen performance enhancing drugs, match fixing, ball tampering and other matters come up over and over. But this latest effort really outshines all the others.

What News of the World has uncovered and provided compelling evidence for, is a well-established pattern of blatant bribery and tailoring performance to meet those demands. The Pakistani team management have suspended the players involved and the International Cricket Council has come out strongly against such inappropriate practices. However in my opinion, this is not nearly strong enough.

The first question to be address is why? It is a simple fact that Pakistani players receive far less as players than do their contemporaries in Australia, England and elsewhere. That they even consider going along with bribery is in a sense, understandable when comparing their financial security to other players. There is an Indian connection as noted by the bag man being an Indian with known connections in this area. While India still has living conditions that are staggeringly lower than the much of the world, there is still big money around in commercial interests and that sort of money appears to be making its presence felt in sports bookmaking circles.

If more money were put into Pakistani cricket, there is less motivation for the players to agree to participate in such behaviour. Now the Pakistani economy may well not be up to putting more money into the game. Perhaps there is a role here for the ICC as a whole to have a hand in lifting the player remuneration.

Now to what is occurring? These latest revelations relate to 'spot betting'; the ability to place a wager, not on the outcome of a sporting event, but on specific events within the game, in this instance, on particular no-balls being balled. It would much easier to 'fix' a specific event occurring, as we have just seen, than it would be to fix an entire match outcome, especially one that takes place over a period of days. It could still be done, but still it would be harder to do. So stamp out bookmaking on spot bets of this sort.

How well informed are we on what has been happening. In wake of the allegations against the Pakistani players concerned, others including senior Australian cricketers have come out admitting similar approaches being made to them. These approaches were all apparently reported to the team management with the appropriate bodies within the ICC structure, notified.

Here's a thought. In future, every time such an approach is registered with the ICC, they make an immediate press release. Lets get the frequency of these things out there in the public eye on an ongoing basis. Remove the veils of secrecy and ignorance. The more attention is paid to these stunts, the harder it will be to continue to get away with them. Make it all visible enough and it will become increasingly unlikely that bookmakers will be prepared to take the risk of such bets.

Next, a full and genuine inquiry with real teeth and backbone is required. The lid needs to be lifted off it all. Will the measures announced to date achieve such ends? I have a sneaking suspicion that they will not. Let's be really honest here - the ICC has a long and well-established pattern of rolling over on the big issues. Those with the biggest voice, which is usually the ones with the most money behind it, gets their way.

The issue now becomes how to achieve all these ends. This is where a strong, dominant driving force is required. Now I am anything but a John Howard fan. I detest much of what he has done in the past and his track record. But I do dispute the allegations that he is a racist.

Initially I was not that concerned about John Howard not getting the deputy's job at the ICC. However in light of the current situation, I suspect that Howard's hardheaded, autocratic way of handling things may be what is required in order to drive real change.