Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Fix for Indian Cricket

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Rahul Dravid recently suggested in a Cricinfo interview that spot fixing should be deemed a criminal offense. His premise being that jail time would be a deterrent to this scourge. He cited the example of cyclists cheating and being afraid of being caught by the cops. He also said that everyone knows about fixing being a bad thing. And in these statements lies the counter-argument.

Everyone knows fixing is bad – spot, match or other. Sportsmen that were afraid of the police were still cheating in cycling. If it didn’t serve as a deterrent to cyclists, would cricketers be any different? Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir went to jail for spot fixing. They committed their crimes in a country that has a much better track record of investigating crimes, following up on legal procedures and enforcing the laws. As such it didn’t appear to this "opinionator" that the laws or police were a deterrent to the Pakistani trio.

Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja paid for their follies with their careers being jettisoned. Clearly, past punishments meted out to cricketers didn’t deter the new trio of alleged IPL fixers. Whether it’s doping, fixing or other forms of cheating in sport, the driver in reality could be greed or some other form of selfish gain. However, criminalizing it could mean absolving the cricketing community of major responsibility and putting the onus on the law enforcement apparatus to clean up the sport. In our opinion, such anti-fixing laws may provide a mechanism to punish, but will likely not serve as much of a deterrent - the Pakistani trio and the cyclists being exhibits one and two.

We are not advocating turning a blind eye and letting it happen.So what can be done to control this menace? For one, we have to be realistic and accept that greed transcends all cultures. The integrity of many sports has been violated over the years. Recently cycling and baseball have been soiled by doping. Cricket and soccer have been assaulted by fixing. Despite strict anti-doping rules, athletes, including Olympians, continue to play the odds.

Education is definitely good. Paying players enough money is also good. However, Sreesanth is going to act in a movie soon. Salman Khan ran over a few people in his SUV and churned out Rs 100 cr plus movies. Unfortunately, in India purists are few and far between.  It appears that people are continually splitting hairs and separating the crime from the criminal and his profession. So long as there is no fan backlash, cricket will likely see this and other malfeasance occur. India is a ripe place for this because since the economic boom, money power has been married to loose morality with regards to integrity, honesty, commitment and other such “old-fashioned” virtues.

While we may be content to blame the system, lets understand that we constitute the system. Societies thrive when its leaders stick their neck out. The moral authority that people (fans in cricket’s case) confer on their leaders should be leveraged. However, we have seen that lack of courage is astounding in a country like India. Dravid is the latest case. At least one of his fans is suggesting that “pelting stones at the establishment that he owes a lot to will do no good”. In other words, discretion is the better part of valor. What's Dravid got to lose? Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and others have likewise not leveraged the moral authority vested in them by the fans either. Carefully chosen words and meticulously drafted statements and accusing no one in particular is a great way to appear to take a stance. But we want to see more Anil Kumbles out there because its not just fixing, it's not just the Srinivasan saga, it's not just the schedules and it's not just the "clean-chits".

Tennis and Golf are run by the players. We want the players to own the sport. In that lies the solution. When the sport is owned by the players, its integrity and its popularity rests on their shoulders. Vigilance by the players who are experts in the game is required. For those of us who have played team sports including cricket, we feel that an engaged captain and manager are the best deterrent to bad behavior including criminal behavior. Laws can be passed and rules can be changed, but if the leadership of the sport is not actively preaching and practicing the highest ideals of the sport, then the lesser players will never try.

The sanctity and credibility of sport rests on its best practitioners. They have a moral obligation to set the highest standard and take ownership of the sport and shape its future. Much like Sachin Tendulkar reshaped batsmanship in India, he and others (Dravid included) must take ownership and reshape India’s cricket culture. But is that asking for too much from these “gentlemen” of sport that are content to express anguish and act like helpless bystanders who can’t bite the hand that fed them? Who say they owe everything to this sport but will not try and rescue it?

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