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Updated: November 5, 2011 00:33 IST

Severity of law a start to curbing the rot

Peter Roebuck
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Peter Roebuck
Peter Roebuck

True followers of the game will not celebrate, writes Peter Roebuck

No-one in their right mind takes any satisfaction from the sight of three Test cricketers in a van on the way to jail. The humiliation is complete. Mohammad Asif has contributed some wonderfully subtle, crafty spells, his shock of black hair thrown back, his eyes alert, his manner patient.

Mohammed Amir has delivered several stirring bursts full of abundant promise. Salman Butt has played some innings of high pedigree, seemed to be a fellow of that ilk. Now they languish behind bars.

True followers of the game will not celebrate. Vengeance is a pitiful emotion. Sadness is the overwhelming sentiment, sadness for a game that was let down, for spectators and for honest comrades and opponents, as well as past players and tomorrow's champions, all of them wondering what it means or meant.

It is even possible to feel a little sorrow for the perpetrators, who made two terrible mistakes, letting greed take over their souls and getting caught in the act. Cricket has been betrayed, many times, by many players from many nations, and often by those it most trusted, not the children of the back streets, but the sophisticates with their marble hall-ways. But then, marble is expensive.

And yet, justice insisted that these culprits suffer the consequences of their grand deception. Although painful to behold, the sentences were palpably right. Feel for the game, not those tarnishing it. The prison terms sent out a message to cricketers and other sportsmen considering taking the 40 pieces of silver. In a trice, a con has been turned into a crime.

It is a vital step in the fight against corruption. Severe punishments alone can stop the rot. Those contemplating taking the money might not be worried about suspensions, but might baulk at a stint behind bars. Cricket followers are entitled to know that their game is worth the bother and that its leading lights are not men of straw. There is no other way; it runs too deep and has been going on too long.

Crucial step

But the next step is crucial. Let every nation pass such a law and diligently enforce it. Let every police force take charge of investigating corruption in sport. These tawdry and yet cleansing events are a beginning, not an end.

The Criminal Prosecution Service took charge of this case. They have the experience. Beyond doubt it has come to that. Cricket needs to use the full weight of the legal service and the police.

Cricket has been unable to expose the corrupt. These deeds came to light because a newspaper was prepared to invest vast resources into a slow moving sting operation. It's not going to happen again. Without making examples and seeking assistance, the odds still favour the shyster. The bookies did not lie low for long after the exposes of the 1990's.

Involving the police confirms that corruption is corruption and that the sporting context is irrelevant. A campaign is underway to rid the world of this curse. Power and privilege has been used to salt away billions and meanwhile the common man suffers. Sport is a tiny part of a much bigger problem.

But the cause is not lost. A frustrated fruit seller set fire to himself in Tunisia and tyrants were toppled. A seer went on hunger strike in India and national leaders were forced to confront their darkness. At first protesters were patronised as “Facebook revolutionaries.” They have been much underestimated.

Cricket needs that same determination. It's no use talking about spirit of the game. It's time to put words into action, time to reward the honest and hunt down the thieves, sporting and otherwise.

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