Cricketers now aware of betting risks: new ACSU chief

By Murali Krishnan, IANS

New Delhi : Former CBI sleuth R.N. Sawani, who takes over from Jeff Rees as chief investigator of the ICC’s Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) this week, believes corruption in cricket cannot be completely stamped out but points to sufficient checks and balances for players, officials and ground staff.

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“There is a world of difference between what was happening in cricket in the 90s and now. Players are aware of the risks involved and there is a strict code of conduct in place,” Sawani told IANS in an exclusive interview.

Sawani, 57, a 1977 batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, headed the Indian probe into the match-fixing scandal in 1999 that subsequently led to life bans to former skipper Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma after a Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) inquiry agreed with the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) findings.

Two other players, Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar, were suspended for five years.

Three months later, 750 Indian officials in 10 cities searched 93 homes and businesses of cricket players, their relatives, bookies and others. The investigation exposed close ties between players, team officials and bookies in several countries.

“My mandate will be to ensure security and stop corruption and I will prioritise how to educate players about traps that may be lurking,” said Sawani.

“At least twice a year, ACSU officials educate players about the dangers that could lie in wait.”

Betting on international cricket especially in the Indian subcontinent involves millions of dollars with money placed on the outcome of the game and on a multitude of possibilities during the course of the game — often referred to as spread or spot betting.

While annual volumes of illegal sport betting could be as high as $40 billion, betting volumes during a crucial One-Day International match, especially one involving India and Pakistan, can exceed $250 million.

In fact outgoing ACSU chief Paul Condon — while briefing Britain’s House of Lords in March — said that gambling on cricket in India and Pakistan was “more lucrative than drug dealing or robbery” and that “match-fixing was linked to organised crime and even terrorism”.

Given Sawani’s experience and familiarity with betting rings and activities of bookies in the Indian subcontinent, it was only natural for ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed to offer him the plum job.

“Yes, I will be coming to India often. A lot of cricket is played here,” said Sawani, who leaves for Dubai Thursday to take on his next assignment.

Sawani now will study the outcome of two key reports — the first involving West Indian all-rounder Marlon Samuels who reportedly passed on privileged team information to an illegal bookmaker a month before cricket’s showpiece event, the World Cup and the inquest hearings that are on in Jamaica involving Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer’s death.

The Nagpur police have reportedly handed over taped conversations of five telephone calls between Samuels and bookie Mukesh Kochchar to the ACSU.

Though the police have yet to conclusively prove that there were financial dealings behind their association, Samuels could be in the dock as his liaison with a bookie is a violation of the ICC Code of Conduct for players.

In the second case, Ere Sheshiah, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy of the Pakistan coach has said that a third party was behind Woolmer’s death and maintained that the former England player had indeed died because of poisoning and strangulation.

“We are concerned over what is happening in both cases. Let us study the reports and see what happens,” said Sawani.