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Does cricket corruption loom large?

6 January 11 06:11 GMT

By Adrian Goldberg, The Report, BBC Radio 4

On the day an inquiry into allegations that Pakistani cricketers were paid to bowl no balls during last summer's tour to England begins, the game's world governing body has admitted that "a very large number of players and officials have reported inappropriate approaches made by potential corruptors".

The International Cricket Council (ICC) told BBC Radio 4's The Report that measures it introduced following match-fixing allegations involving South African captain Hansie Cronje in 2000 had been successful.

But former ICC president Ehsan Mani claimed some national cricket boards had failed to protect players, and should be threatened with suspension from Test cricket.

This week's tribunal in Qatar will examine a "sting" orchestrated by the News of the World, in which two Pakistan bowlers Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Asif are alleged to have bowled no balls at the behest of agent Mazhar Majeed, and with the collusion of their captain, Salman Butt.

All four men deny any wrong-doing, but whatever the outcome of the case, the spectre of fixing is unlikely to disappear any time soon - not least because of the illegal but highly lucrative Indian betting industry that sustains it.

Delhi-based journalist Murali Krishnan explained: "The fact is all you need right now for bookies to operate is cell phones and the internet and a television."

"They do it in many places, they do it sometimes in hotel rooms, they do it in farmhouses, they do it in their friends' houses and it's entirely structured and very professional the way they work."

With sums of up to $250m wagered on high-profile cricket matches, Krishnan says the Indian gambling industry has attracted the interest of the nation's criminal underworld.

In some cases they will run a bookmaking operation themselves; alternatively, they will seek to enhance their ill-gotten wealth by betting with the illegal bookies.

Using a global network of fixers, these criminal gangs often attempt to influence only small sections of a match - so-called "spot-fixing" - but will use their inside information to cash in on fluctuations in the betting market.

Krishnan adds that since English Twenty20 matches were first televised in India three years ago, county cricketers have been targeted by the fixers too. It is a claim supported by Ian Smith, legal director of the players' trade union, the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA).

Over recent seasons, Smith says he has been made aware of several approaches on the domestic circuit, including one where a player was offered £250,000 to persuade his team-mates to throw a game.

The PCA says that in all the cases it has been made aware of the players involved rejected the approaches made to them.

Smith, though, says he has "irrefutable evidence" that fixers use information gleaned from social-networking sites like Facebook to target their prey, and added: "The internet has made the job of identifying and researching targets 100 times easier than it was, say, five or even 10 years ago."

The PCA runs an education programme in partnership with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to warn players of the risks and, thanks in part to measures like this, the ICC claims "there is no credible evidence that the problem of corruption in cricket is widespread".

Mani, who led the ICC from 2003 until 2006, warns that some national cricket boards are not as proactive as the ECB however, and argues that it is time to take tough action against those countries whose players are repeat offenders.

He said: "If a board fails to control corruption then the credibility of the game is brought into question, and if that means taking international cricket out of the country for a couple of seasons then, yes, that should be done."

The Report is on BBC Radio 4 at 2000 GMT on Thursday 6 January. Or listen via the BBC iplayer , or download the programme podcast.

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