A game soiled

Politics took a vacation and criticism of the preparations for Commonwealth Games 2010 took a backseat as the Pakistan cricket team lit our mornings and our TV screens. Seven Pakistani cricketers are being investigated by the Scotland Yard for suspected spot-fixing during the Test against England at Lord’s.

If the charges are proven to be true, the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) are likely to take stringent action against all the players involved — but nothing less than a life ban and erasing their records will suffice. However, in case the 18-year-old fast bowler Mohammad Amir agrees to turn approver, he should be let off with a “light” punishment.
Even as this investigation is underway, every Pakistan match over the last decade or so has come under scrutiny. The team’s erratic performance over the past two years is especially under scrutiny. The ICC apparently wants to scrutinise 82 matches involving Pakistan. Until a full inquiry is conducted, all scheduled matches with Pakistan must be cancelled. I think it is unfair to ask teams to play with “tainted” players.
We are all well aware of corruption in sports. With financial rewards going into millions, even billions, every form of illegality — from performance-enhancing steroids to betting — has crept into locker rooms. Almost every sport authority is fighting a daily battle to keep its respective sport clean and away from all controversies. No one in Pakistan should feel guilty for the actions of a few “cheats”. Betting syndicates exist in every country (legal or illegal), including in India where huge profits are generated from this national pastime. I wish we could make betting legal in India, as it is in many Western countries.
The collateral damage of such events is that they rekindle old doubts. We all remember the cricket series in Australia where we were “cheated” out of certain victory by dubious umpiring decisions. Once the media and technology exposed the truth, the public, both in India and Australia, reacted with outrage. I wonder in which category we would put these umpiring “accidents”? Were those decisions taken deliberately? Would action have been taken if India with its current clout had put pressure on the ICC?
Every doubtful decision will now attract attention, as will every dropped catch, a wide ball or a no-ball. Even players with integrity will come under the scanner if they are forced to play with “tainted” cricketers.
It is time that ICC president Sharad Pawar looked beyond broadcasting rights and commercial gains and scrapped the ongoing Pakistan tour. I am sure this will be good for Pakistan cricket as well.
I don’t think anyone is in a position to give sermons on the subject. In the last episode of match-fixing, a few officials and players in South Africa, Pakistan and India were held responsible but many cricket boards remained in denial. For them, money received for “weather reports” and “pitch inspection” was acceptable.
Cricket will continue and cricket fans will travel hundreds of miles to see Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and others. But are we ready to see a “tainted” cricketer in action? Will we be watching the game or will we be scrutinising his feet and mouth, and his hands to see if he is tampering with the cricket ball?
Cricket for us in India is an “obsession” and we have been fortunate in having several role models in the past and the present who make “cheating” impossible in the team. Players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman are an inspiration to all of us. Sadly, such inspiring talents were totally missing from the Pakistan selection board and the team. Pakistan too has its share of “role models” and if players like Imran Khan or Zaheer Abbas were in charge of the PCB, Pakistan cricket would have never been in such a mess.
I believe in the principle that politicians should not be a part of any sport or sports managing body. We could have easily avoided the Board of Control for Cricket in India-Indian Premier League (IPL) imbroglio if those in-charge had the integrity levels of Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri or Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. Though all three were members of the IPL governing body, they had no authority.
There are lessons in these scandals for everyone. The basic problem is that the ICC and various cricket boards, as we know them in India and perhaps elsewhere, concentrates power in a few hands. This inevitably leads to a conflict of interest. The entire battle between the BCCI and Lalit Modi and the IPL is about controlling the finances.
WE HAVE had important political developments as the Congress, along with the Bharatiya Janata Party, amidst opposition from the Left, have made suitable amendments and passed the Nuclear Liability Bill. This scenario will again be repeated as we take up the issue of land acquisition. Despite the political punches that parties hurl at each other, such steps display the strength of our system.
The Land Acquisition Amendment Bill was long overdue and all credit must go to the Trinamul Congress and Mamata Banerjee for highlighting this issue in Nandigram and Singur. The public sentiment is strongly against forcible acquisition of land by state governments.
We also welcome the developments in the Bhopal gas tragedy case as the Supreme Court reopens the case. In the Bhopal gas leak case, or in the case of land acquisition or the cases involving the murders of Jessica Lal, Nitish Katara and Priyadarshini Mattoo, we have all seen how a small band of dedicated political workers, social activists, 24x7 media coverage and ordinary citizens can rouse the conscience of this nation.
The three wings of governance simply cannot ignore the force of public opinion with which an unresponsive system can come to life. Change is in the air and it is time that this came from political initiatives by leaders who can think beyond party lines and are willing to go against conventional political wisdom.
Change is never easy and can often be painful but I think between now and four crucial Assembly elections in 2011, the leadership of the future will surface — both at the Centre and in the states.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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