The Pakistan Cricket Scandal -- ‘When Does Investigative Journalism Become Incitement?’

By Alexander Baron

The allegations surrounding the Pakistan national cricket team currently touring England needs no introduction here. About the time this story broke, Kevin Pushia, a pastor, was in a Baltimore courtroom where he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to the February 2009 murder of a blind and disabled man who was in his care. Pushia had taken out life insurance on the victim, then hired a hit man to shoot him dead. This was a crime of unimaginable cruelty committed purely for financial gain. The hit man – who has not been apprehended – was paid $50,000.

This extremely callous murder warranted only limited media coverage in the United States, but a group of cricketers and their front man allegedly taking £150,000 in bribes not even to throw a test match but simply to fluff a ball or three, becomes a front page story that runs and runs.

I say allegedly not for fear of falling foul of the libel laws – which hardly apply to cyber-space anyway – but because the video footage that has been released by the News Of The World has one important desideratum – there is absolutely nothing in anywhere in any of their films to indicate when they were taken.

This reminded me of a plot in a British soap opera I am almost ashamed to admit I have been known to follow. A con man who had ingratiated himself with a woman who worked in a betting shop doctored a betting slip, and won a five horse accumulator. We can all pick the winner of the Derby after the event; likewise we can all predict a no-ball after it has been bowled.

Amazingly, no one appears to have picked up on this, no one in the mass media at any rate, but whatever else may be said of them, the Metropolitan Police are not fools, and as I write these words, after a second week of “revelations”, this time of fixing entire matches, no one has yet been charged with any criminal offence.

There is something not quite right about this scoop. A Pakistani con man who speaks better English than most native-born Britons, with accent to boot, a highly educated but at the same time incredibly incautious individual who sits right in front of a concealed camera and counts out a hundred and fifty thousand pounds in cash. Would you trust a Grub Street hack with that sort of money?

If these allegations related to bookmaking in Britain, the News Of The World would already be a laughing stock. There have of course been many instances of cheating here, involving especially horse racing and sometimes other sports, although horse racing is always a gamble, even when “the fix” is in.

Sometimes a racehorse will show a sudden and dramatic improvement on the gallops, and when this happens the trainer and his “connections” may pull off a “coup”; though the sums involved may be large for the average British housewife, it is debatable if any individual or group thereof would shell out a hundred and fifty grand to a stable for such inside information. But there is no such thing as a racing certainty. It may be that there is more than one greatly improved horse in the race, or the beast may have an off-day, it may miss its footing and go lame, it may even be stung by a wasp. Even when all his hunky dory, a big wager on a horse, a dog or or anything else, affects the market.

A man who walked into a bookmaker’s and placed a four figure bet on a soccer team to win by 3 goals to 1 would attract some attention. And a dozen people placing similar bets on the same sporting event could not fail to be noticed. If the bet came off, the bookmaker would suspend payment until a thorough investigation had been undertaken. And even if there is no positive proof of foul play, the firm is not obliged to pay out at all.

The allegations relating to the Pakistan team concern unspecified illegal bookmakers in another jurisdiction; this is doubly suspicious. And the biggest revelation by the News Of The World? Yasir Hameed claims he was once offered a hundred thousand pound bribe, but turned it down.

Even if any of these revelations are true, it remains to be seen if the News Of The World has merely investigated them or has incited them in the first place. Every man has his price; for the hit man who murdered a disabled and blind man in a Baltimore public bathroom, it was $50,000. We shouldn’t be too surprised if greedy sportsmen will sell their honour for two or three times as much.

“But” – if it can be shown that anyone associated with the News Of The World has indeed bribed or incited a Pakistani cricketer or anyone to throw or in any way however minor to fix the outcome of a match, then the person or persons concerned should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, including for wasting police time. And if the paper can genuinely afford to bribe a fixer with £150,000 in readies, then it can surely afford to make a similar donation to the Pakistan flood appeal.

[The above was published originally by Mathaba, September 6, 2010].

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