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Sporting politics gone mad!

In the last week we saw the three players implicated in the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal – captain Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – finally suspended for their involvement in degrading the integrity of the game. Alas, again politics got in the way of the right decisions being made about this problem, and until cricket can sort this out, progress will not be made.

It is about time that the ICC, or probably more importantly an independent third party, looks into their decision making process and how their Anti-Corruption board goes about their supposed work. Whilst the right decision to charge these players was made, the bans imposed upon them are quite ridiculous.

I’ll start with the captain. This man is the leader of cricket, one of the country’s most popular sports, in Pakistan. He is the face of the sport, and everything which he does on the field is as a representative of his country.  Whilst some people believe that his position shouldn’t influence how he is viewed by this tribunal, I think it is a must. It should be taken into consideration by the tribunal making this decision that this player was the leader of the team, and that the team is encouraged to follow his example. In this case he has set an horrendous example. Butt received a 10 year ban, with five years of it suspended. At 26, this means there is every chance he will still be fit and right to play in 2016, which for a player which has done which he has, is quite disgraceful. Captains who lead spot-fixing of games, and allegedly lead match-fixing in the case of the Sydney Test in 2010, should be rubbed out of the game for life, no questions asked.

Next is Asif. This man is a supremely talented bowler, able to vary pace, bounce and movement, seeming having the ball on a string at times. As of July 2010, just a month before all this blew up, Asif was ranked second on the ICC test bowlers list, behind the unmatched leader Dale Steyn. There were times during the last two series against Australia and England where he looked a class above, most particularly on the first day of the aforementioned Sydney Test. But unfortunately for Asif, its not the first time he has been in some trouble. In 2006 he tested positive to an anabolic steroid, but had his one-year ban overturned on appeal. There was some controversy when he and speedster Shoaib Akthar, who also tested positive to the same substance in 2006, were ruled out of the 2007 World Cup just minutes before the team was to leave, meaning neither would have to face a drug test. He was then detained in Dubai on suspicion of possessing illegal drugs, later having those charges dropped, before receiving a one-year ban from the IPL after testing positive again for a banned steroid whilst at the Dehli Dare Devils in 2008. In short, he has a long wrap sheet. He is also the best and most experienced bowler in this side. Asif received a seven year ban, with two years suspended. Now for a man with a history, surely five years is quite light, but in saying that if I was Asif, I would be complaining about how I could possibly get the same as the captain and instigator of the trouble. At 28, this is probably the end of a tumultuous career for Asif.

Finally there is Amir. The superstar 18 year old, the saviour of Pakistan cricket. After bursting onto the scene in late 2009, this kid has been compared to the greats, and on first glance, rightly so. When I first saw him live in the Boxing Day Test in 2009, I could tell that he is a star in the making. In my opinion, out of the three of them, Amir is the biggest victim. Whilst his actions are indefensible, and he deserved a harsh penalty, there is no sane reason why he should be treated in the same way as the captain of the side, and the most experienced bowler in the side. In principle, I don’t necessarily disagree with a five year ban for Amir, but in relation to the other bans dished out, it is ridiculous. His age and experience should definitely be taken into account, considering he was following his captain’s orders, and the lead of his experienced bowling partner. Right or wrong, to expect an 18 year old to defy his captain and fellow peers, all of whom are at least 3 years his senior, is illogical. Being 18, he is almost certain to return in 5 years time, and hopefully continue a successful and rewarding career.

The severity of the Amir ban reveals the dark politics which rid cricket of a stable and successful future. As long as the ICC is too scared to make a decision which may not be liked by some on the sub-continent these problems will continue. I have no issue with the game being controlled mostly out of the sub-continent, because that is where the heart and soul of the game lies, but there should be structures put in place to deny politics to control such crucial decisions regarding the integrity of the game. There is no doubt that politics are the reason the (relatively) innocent 18 year old got the same ban as the 26 year old captain and instigator, and therein lies the problem for cricket trying to move beyond all of this.

I don’t have a definite solution for this problem, but I would like to see an independent third body brought in to deal with integrity and match-fixing issues. This may be the only way to save the game from spirally into chaos as the sub-continent deals just for itself.

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