There was a moment during N. Srinivasan’s press conference when he was at pains to explain how surprised and shocked he was with the most recent spot-fixing scandal. “But I am shocked,” he said, “the BCCI is shocked. This was not expected.” That was the moment many indignant smiles would have broken out across many living rooms around India. The BCCI president’s “shock” seemed contrived, almost a comically desperate attempt to show a betrayed nation that the BCCI were completely above this muck, completely unaware that they had been harbouring three greedy rascals in their fold.
It was a classic play from the BCCI book of denials. Whenever there’s trouble, deny any knowledge of it. The more you deny, the less accountable you become. This was true during the Chandrachud Commission in 1997 where a bunch of cricketers and administrators routinely denied any knowledge of corruption. To them, it didn’t happen. Months later, most of them were caught on video during a sting operation offering juicy details of fixed matches and the cricketers who fixed them.
Srinivasan also assured us that there would be zero-tolerance towards corruption in Indian cricket. But is the BCCI really committed to this zero-tolerance stance? Let’s examine the evidence.
In 2011, India played the Netherlands in Delhi at a World Cup game. A man (we will call him Mr. A) was handed media duties for the game. Mr. A is a known bookmaker. Yet here he was in the dressing room of the Indian team. During the biggest tournament in the cricket world. Handling an administrative role. Right in the national capital of the country. Zero tolerance?
In 2000, when the gigantic match-fixing scandal had shaken the foundations of the cricket world, many Indian cricketers were shown to be in bed with bookmakers. One glance at Tehelka's sensational recordings or the CBI report will give a pretty good idea of who these cricketers are and what the nature of their crimes was. Two of those cricketers are now part of the IPL expert panel – a panel which is handpicked by the BCCI. Zero tolerance again?
The BCCI had been warned – by multiple authorities on anti-corruption – that the IPL is a breeding ground for nefarious activities. “The arrival of international T20 cricket and the Indian Premier League has considerably increased the risk of match-fixing and spot-fixing”, said Bertrand de Speville, the former solicitor general of Hong Kong in 2011 in a detailed study commissioned by the ICC. de Speville, and Paul Condon (the former chief of ICC’s anti-corruption unit) had made it absolutely clear that the IPL poses high threats of fixing not seen since the Sharjah days. Only someone with his head buried in the sand would still be "shocked" at what happened this week.
In 2011, a sports magazine investigated the association of bookmakers and cricketers. The strong pattern that emerged from their six-month long investigation was this: bookmakers could predict scoring patterns, fall of wickets, what bowlers would do and such, and they could predict these things with a scary degree of accuracy. Tonnes of phone recordings from the investigation were handed over to the BCCI. In those recordings were indictment of many cricketers. These were leads that could have been pursued, but weren’t. As an editorial in the magazine said: “While the world of Indian cricket is a dog-eat-dog world, it’s also one that protects its own, be it players, agents, officials or even those on its fringes. It shuts out anyone who breaks that code of silence. Yes, much like the mafia.”
So, Mr. Srinivasan, save the shock, and continue to deny all knowledge of Indian cricket’s ills. Tolerance for those ills is an intrinsic part of the game. But in a day or two, all will be forgotten. The cricket-loving public will continue to tune in to the tamasha every evening. The experts accused of match-fixing were pontificate on the playoffs and the final. Much fun will be had. Wednesday’s bitter memory will fade away. Meanwhile, the bookies will prey on another “talent” and it will be business as usual.
As for Sreesanth and the rest, they’ll do their time in jail, serve out their bans and get on with their lives. Maybe Sreesanth will find a career in public life, become a politician or a reality television star. Maybe we’ll find a way to tolerate him. Sreesanth Ka Swayamvar, anyone? Rather that than him on the cricket field.
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