Cricket hero turned cheat gets prison term
Salman Butt, former captain of the Pakistani cricket team, will serve 30 months in prison for his part in a match-fixing scandal. His fall has brought shame to a once respectable sport.
For many Pakistanis, cricket is something more than a national sport: it’s almost a religion. And if cricket is a religion, Salman Butt was once a god, the captain of the Pakistan Cricket Team. He had fast cars, beautiful houses, the respect of millions of people. He had one healthy son – and his wife has just given birth to a second back at home in Lahore.
But Salman Butt is far from his young family, and his glorious reputation is in ruins. Why? In a scandal that rocked the respectable world of cricket, he and two colleagues on the Pakistan team were found guilty of conspiring to pervert the course of an international cricket match, arranging to make deliberate mistakes so that unscrupulous gangsters could gamble and make a profit.
The practice is called ‘spot-fixing’. Butt arranged with two bowlers on the team that at particular points in the match they would slip up, bowling no-balls. Far away, in shadowy betting shops across South Asia, gangsters would have bet on precisely those no-balls being bowled. When their predictions ‘miraculously’ came true, they would walk out with thousands of pounds worth of illegally won cash.
Each of the three cricketers, meanwhile, pocketed a substantial fee for his dishonesty. It was simple greed that led them to overturn the ethics of the game. The fact that the cricketers were already highly paid sports stars makes that greed particularly hard to take for ordinary Pakistanis, millions of whom survive on less than one pound a day.
Now, however, they will pay a heavy price. In a court hearing in London, the cricketers and one accomplice were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. But, as the judge in the case pointed out, this scandal has soiled the reputation of a sport whose name was once a synonym for sportsmanship and good behaviour. The discovery that some players will so disgracefully betray the principles of the game casts the validity of all future cricket matches into doubt.
The cricket world hopes that the harsh punishments handed out to Butt and the others will serve as an effective deterrent to anyone else tempted to break the rules. Three promising careers have been destroyed. Three men have been transformed from superstars to jailbirds. Surely, say the authorities, that should convince sportsmen that the risks of match fixing far outweigh the rewards.
But pessimistic observers say there is little that can be done to stem the flow of corruption. There is just too much money available in illegal gambling to keep players from being tempted. In fact, there is a view that says the only hope lies in some residual sense of honour among players themselves – a sense of honour that is, counter-intuitively, eroded by rules and external supervision.
- What is the best way to combat match-fixing?
- Is honour an outdated concept? What does it mean, and is it something to aspire to in modern life?
- Imagine you were Salman Butt and write a letter to your wife and newborn son back in Lahore. How would explain your actions? What would you say to them?
- Do some further research on illegal gambling and how match-fixers make their money. How do you think bookies and law enforcement agencies can tell when match fixing is going on?
Some People Say...
“Virtue can never be imposed from the outside.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Does match fixing happen in other sports?
- Yes. In fact it is depressingly widespread. Even Japanese sumo wrestling, which you would expect to be totally bound by honour and tradition, has suffered match-fixing scandals. In football, the world's most popular sport, matches are fixed every day.
- Goalkeepers deliberately miss saves. Defenders give away deliberate penalties. Strikers can miss goals.
- Does that happen in big games?
- It's mainly smaller leagues from poorer countries, where players are not so well paid. But with sports gambling worth billions of pounds per year, there's a lot of money available for those willing to break the rules.
- The second largest city in Pakistan, situated in the rich Punjab province. It is known for its art and culture.
- In cricket, a no-ball is a term for an illegal throw, or 'delivery' from the bowler. Reasons why a delivery can be illegal include throwing with a bent arm and taking too long a run-up towards the batsman.
- Two words are synonyms when they mean the same thing. In this case, the idea is that 'cricket' means the same as 'fair' or 'honourable' – as in the English phrase 'that's not cricket'.
- Something is counter-intuitive when it is the opposite of what you would naturally think. In this case, you might think that more rules and more supervision would make people be more honourable. However – when people feel external pressure to obey rules, they sometimes relax their own internal standards.