Fresh allegations of spot-fixing in Australian cricket have arrived at the same time the ICC’s anti-corruption unit is making a major shift in focus to more directly target corruptors and their intermediaries as opposed to the players caught up in their web.
As the governing body’s recently appointed anti-corruption general manager Alex Marshall sets out to investigate a wide assortment of claims made in The Sun newspaper and passed on to the ICC, the ACU is seeking to pivot from the symptoms of corruption – namely spot fixes by players – to its causes, and to see players as partners in the task of addressing it.
One of the longstanding criticisms of the ACU from players past and present is that it has appeared to be more concerned with catching out players rather than cutting off the major sources of corruption. For years these have been generally understood to be numerous well-connected crime underworld figures seeking to set-up fixes to then be exploited on the massive, unregulated and often illegal gambling market on the Asian subcontinent.
Allied to these “kingpin” figures are the intermediaries who are commonly used to set up relationships with players that can lead later on to corruption. Such “middle men” are generally either outsiders to cricket who are not covered under the ICC’s anti-corruption code, or others more closely linked to the game with relationships inside a team though not formally a part of them – the sorts of people who a player or captain would not think twice about arranging to meet.
In recent weeks, no fewer than three international captains have reported suspicious approaches to the ACU, though ESPNcricinfo understands that neither England’s captain Joe Root nor Australia’s captain Steven Smith are among those approached. Zimbabwe’s captain Graeme Cremer and Pakistan’s captain Sarfraz Ahmed have both been reported as rebuffing approaches.
Anti-corruption investigations have brought bans for numerous players, with life bans being handed to Lou Vincent (New Zealand), Sreesanth (India) and Danish Kaneria (Pakistan) over the past four years. South Africa’s Thami Tsolekile, was banned for 12 years in 2016 for “contriving to fix” in the Ram Slam Twenty20 tournament, and in August this year the sometime Pakistan opener Sharjeel Khan was banned for five years on spot-fixing charges relating to the Pakistan Super League in the UAE.
However there has always been an uneasy relationship between the ACU and the players, many of whom have not believed that the game’s governing body truly wishes to stamp out corruption by taking on the corruptors directly, while also addressing issues of inequality in the game – namely the vast differences in salaries drawn by players in the game’s richer and poorer countries – that make some players far more vulnerable than others. Recent offers of bribes for illegal activity in the game are believed to have ranged anywhere from US $5,000 to US $150,000, most commonly sitting in the range of US$30-40,000.
The ICC’s files on corruption cases go back as far as 1997, with numerous names recurring as organisers or approachers. In cases where those figures are neither signatories to the ICC anti-corruption code nor able to be charged with a criminal offence under the laws of the country or countries in which they operate, efforts are likely to be made to publicise their activities and warn players, officials and administrators against associating with them.
Another reason that targeting corruptors would have a more profound effect than exposing players would be to prevent them from establishing relationships with young and impressionable players who can then be trapped into working with fixers as their careers develop. Under-age competitions and the emerging women’s game are both sources of concern for the ACU as they are populated with players lacking the years of education and warning drummed into male international cricketers in particular.
In seeking better communication between the ACU, players, administrators and law enforcement bodies, Marshall has spent time in recent weeks meeting with leaders of players associations, cricket boards and also agencies like the Australian Federal Police. Following the allegations in The Sun, the Australian Cricketers’ Association highlighted the need to preserve the game’s integrity.
As part of its fresh focus on corruption, the ACU’s powers were expanded in September to allow it to demand the phone of any player, official or administrator who is a signatory to the ICC’s anti-corruption code if there are reasonable grounds to suggest that individual has been involved in suspicious activity. Refusal to comply with the request can then result in a non-compliance charge under the code, not unlike offences for failing to submit to tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
Speaking about the right to access phones of anyone under suspicion in the current investigation, Marshall said the ACU would use all means available. “As with any investigation we will use all options available to us should we deem it necessary and appropriate,” he said. “The ability to download mobile phones is one part of the investigative toolkit for us.” (ESPNCricinfo)