Huge step forward as Sri Lanka introduces laws to tackle corruption in sports

Sri Lanka has taken a giant step forward towards sports without corruption as Parliament will introduce new laws next week to tackle the menace.

The reputation of cricket in Sri Lanka had suffered new lows with the International Cricket Council conducting several corruption investigations in the country. We are told that the corruption cases relating to Sri Lanka are bigger than all other Test playing countries put together! Today we take a look as to why it is important to make corruption in sports a criminal offence.

The head of ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit Alex Marshall has had an impressive career as a top police officer in Scotland Yard having rubbed shoulders with the likes of David Cameron and Theresa May in his efforts to keep Britain safe. Him joining the ICC was a godsend as the governing body has taken impressive efforts to clean up the great game. 

A career Policeman for over three decades, the ICC under Marshall’s stewardship has been able to bring charges against a record number of individuals for corrupt practice. Some have been suspended while many others await their fate as cases against them are pending. More importantly, none have been spared in Marshall’s efforts to clean up the game, be it top ranked players, successful cricket coaches or leading sports administrators. Marshall’s theory is simple – If you do the crime, do the time. 

The amnesty period that the ICC gave Sri Lankan players early this year to report incidents that had been previous ignored helped the authorities unearth new evidence and open up new cases. Based on these evidences, the investigators were able to strengthen their cases. They received new angles to investigations that were already on. There was also fresh evidence with which new cases were opened up. 

However, Marshall has tumbled down some stumbling blocks. While he can charge and investigate those who come under the direct purview of cricket such as players, coaches and officials who are contracted and bound by the Code of Conduct, he is not able to do much against those who are not bound by the Code. 

These individuals, be it bookies or those who intend to corrupt the game from the outside, need to be dealt with. The ICC, however, doesn’t have the power to do it. Marshall still has made their life difficult. For example, these corruptors have been told that the ICC knows about them. Then, Immigration Officers of countries have been briefed about these individuals so that they can be stopped from entering a country. These are remarkable initiatives that discourage bad eggs. Yet, they still tend to operate from their rooms. All what it takes is a mobile phone to harm the innocence of the sport. This is where making corruption in cricket a criminal offence becomes extremely necessary. 

Once Parliament passes the new bill, the corrupt face a jail term up to ten years. For other cases, there are also hefty fines. This will surely discourage these crooked elements and it will go a long way in cleaning up the beloved game of ours. 

Sri Lanka Cricket and the Sports Ministry needs to be commended for realizing that they have got to put their house in order. Marshall has been advising local authorities here and one of the things that he has urged them on is to introduce laws to tackle corruption in the sport. 

The United Kingdom already has laws to send those who corrupt the sport to jail. Several leading cricketers have been jailed in the UK for the offence. Sri Lanka will become the first Asian nation to legalize corruption in sport as a crime. Massive respect to all individuals who have set aside differences and worked towards getting this bill into Parliament. The bill is expected to be passed without much debate as this is a pressing need cricket in the country faces. The other Asian nations are sure to take a leaf out of Sri Lanka’s book and introduce new laws to tackle the scourge of corruption. 

Marshall has been with the ICC for less than two years. But the sport has made tremendous progress during his time. It has come to light that all the upsets that cricket has seen in this period may not have been due to the glorious uncertainties of the sport. Shakib Al Hasan, the world’s number one ranked all-rounder has been the most high profile player to be suspended so far. 

What this relentless clean up job has done is to give spectators hope that corruption in the sport can be rooted out. Sponsors were beginning to distance themselves from the game that was losing its values. But all of them now have the assurance that corruption will not be tolerated by any stretch of imagination.

“BEHIND THE BOWLER’S ARM” BY REX CLEMENTINE