Criminalizing corruption in sports – a counterpoint
Parliament early this week passed new legislation making corruption in sports a criminal act. The need to introduce new laws was endorsed by former Scotland Yard top policeman Alex Marshall, who heads the Anti Corruption Unit of the International Cricket Council. Marshall’s team has been conducting investigations on corruption in cricket in Sri Lanka and felt that new laws need to be brought in to address the threat faced by the sport. Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation to criminalize corruption in sports. In countries like United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, corruption in sports is already a criminal offence.
At a time when Sri Lanka Cricket was facing the danger of suspension from the ICC, assurance that authorities are willing to address the issue was a need of the hour. The world has been given the assurance that the country is serious about tackling corruption in the sport. However, what it has done is to further the powers of Minister of Sports.
Cricket enthusiasts for quite some time now have been urging authorities to reduce the powers the Minister of Sports enjoyed. Effectively, the Sports Minister is the Chairman of Selectors as it is he who approves cricket teams selected to represent the country.
There have been instances where Sports Ministers have called back cricket teams about to board a flight, from the airport for an overseas tour for the simple reason that the selectors had not obtained approval of the Minister for the squad selected. Sri Lanka’s tour of India in 2017 was in limbo after Dayasiri Jayasekara ordered the members of the national cricket team to go home without boarding the aircraft.
Johnston Fernando in 2004 sacked an entire selection panel after the selectors did not see eye to with then captain Sanath Jayasuriya.
Lakshman Kiriella before him in 2001 demanded the selectors to pick Kumar Dharmasena for a home series.
Ministers over the last decade and half have run Sri Lanka Cricket through their Secretaries, appointing them as Competent Authority. These Secretaries have entered into deals worth multi million dollars and SLC had suffered huge losses as a result. One such example is when Gamini Lokuge’s Secretary S. Liyanagama entered into a contract with a blacklisted company – Nimbus and true to form the company defaulted payments.
The new law passed by Parliament gives the Minister of Sports powers to investigate any individual for corruption. Basically, those elected at cricket AGMs are at the mercy of the Sports Minister. They have two choices – either to heed to demands of the Minister or put their reputation on the line.
There is danger of those who get involved in petty crimes being penalized while those involved in foul play on a large scale going scot-free. Ideally, the power to appoint individuals to investigate corruption should have come under an independent body or the CEO of SLC.
Despite the drawbacks, the new legislation needs to be lauded. Until now bookies functioned freely, betting on cricket and at times even approaching players and officials to fix games. These corrupt elements operated from grounds providing real time information on what was taking place, on cricket pitches.
SLC could only eject these individuals from the ground but were not able to do anything beyond keeping the game clean.
But from now on those who frequent cricket grounds with the intention of corrupting games face fines and even jail terms up to ten years.
Sri Lanka’s reputation in cricket circles had suffered several blows following a record number of investigations that the ICC had started. It is as a result of these investigations that the urgent need to enact new laws was felt. Former great Kumar Sangakkara recently revealed that out of the 43 corruption investigations that the ICC is conducting at the moment, 23 are on Sri Lanka and that is quite alarming.
Sanga went onto reveal that young players remain the most vulnerable for corruption and that the system should take steps to protect individuals who expose corruption.
Much more needs to be done to clean up the game and protect cricket’s reputation.
One of the most discussed corruption incidents happened in a domestic game involving Panadura and Kalutara. Both teams were involved in corrupt play in order to gain promotion for a top division. Chamara Silva, the former Test cricketer was captaining Panadura and reported sick for the game rather than working with the corrupt.
An independent investigation conducted named the culprits but three successive Sports Ministers refused to act on the recommendations and those who killed the innocence of the sport are continuing to hold key positions at SLC. Instead, the contract of the man who investigated the incident – a retired police officer was not renewed by SLC as his finding were quite damning.
The ICC has been asking local authorities to hand over the investigations to them, but there has been lack of interest from the Sports Ministry to take the lead on this matter.
Hopefully, the push to introduce new laws to tackle corruption is not mere eyewash. Authorities need to match their words with deeds.