Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif are expected to play in the Pakistan domestic season as they will be free from ICC sanctions after 2nd September 2015.
They, along with Mohammad Amir, were banned by the ICC for their role in the spot-fixing scandal on Pakistan’s tour to England in 2010. Butt was banned for ten years (with five suspended), Asif was given a seven year ban (with two suspended) and Amir suffered a five year ban. All three will now be free to play cricket anywhere in the world.
Butt was clearly the ring-leader or orchestrator of the deception with Asif, and to a lesser extent Amir, just characters in his dubious, fraudulent opera. Amir has come in for particular sympathy with many pointing to his humble beginnings and lack of education as justification for him getting involved in corruption. The argument is he was merely a victim of Butt’s greed and criminality and as Butt was the captain of Pakistan, Amir found it difficult to refuse him. Of course, it is perfectly possible Amir was chosen by Butt for just that reason, or maybe because he was a willing participant.
Asif has been involved in other controversies during his career when he tested positive for a banned steroid in 2006 and was detained in Dubai in 2008 for possessing opium.
But should the three be allowed back into cricket?
What they committed was fraud. They conspired to alter the results of cricket matches. One could argue spot-fixing is fairly harmless as it may only revolve around one delivery in a game and so could hardly make much difference to the overall outcome. Although, in the game which finally did for the three, Butt batted out a maiden, as engineered from the start, and so this was a little more than just one ball. You could argue this is tantamount to petty crime and therefore does it really affect the overall criminality of a country?
But with almost all petty crime there is usually a larger problem from which it has spilled. Traffic Police often claim it is worth stopping someone for something as petty as a faulty brake light or bald tire as those who would gladly go about their business with those misdemeanours can often be willing to get involved in anything criminal or illegal on a much bigger scale than minor motoring transgressions.
Cricket must do what it can to eliminate cheating of any kind, and spot-fixing is cheating. In any other walk of life it would be referred to as fraud. For that, few can ever enjoy the luxury of being allowed back into the same job they were banned from for fear they could not resist the temptation to commit the felony all over again.
I understand the feeling of sympathy for Amir, and to a lesser extent Asif, but let us consider this from another angle.
Let us imagine they were working in a bank. Now Amir may not have been the most educated, or qualified of individuals but he is bright, talented and is tipped to become one of the finest employees the bank has seen in a while. But Amir is not paid as much as others around him and this all leaves him vulnerable. Vulnerable to temptation. He is approached by his boss to pass over some information about the way the bank works, its systems etc. Pretty basic stuff, and for that Amir receives a nice little bonus which helps him buy the things he cannot because his tight employer won’t pay him what he believes he is worth.
This passing of information continues, and although at first it seemed innocent, soon leads to Amir needing to access more detailed information on customers’ accounts to pass onto his boss. Of course his boss cannot be seen to be accessing the system as this would lead to awkward questions. Amir, despite his humble upbringing, understands what he is doing is wrong, as they warned him of such on his training course. But, what he hasn’t realised, is he has already been ‘groomed’ and it is only a matter of time before he is passing across details such as passwords and account numbers. He is well aware he is doing something wrong, what the consequences could be, but the financial benefits for him are far too great for him to refuse. He has already passed that crossroads where he could’ve turned off down the ‘no thanks’ route, but that would take him back to where he was when he was a humble, boring bank teller, whereas now he has some exciting friends, possessions he only ever dreamed of and he consoles himself with the rather naïve, “it won’t be me who gets it, it’ll be the boss first”.
There will have been times when he protested he didn’t want to reveal too much and get too involved but he was told, in no uncertain terms, that if he pulled out then an email would be on its way to the directors of the bank about what he had done.
Now, in spot-fixing terms this is as far as it goes. No customer has lost any money at this stage so you could argue where is the harm?
All Amir has done is break data protection rules, the bank’s code of conduct and also anti-money laundering procedures. However, his employer can be fined, quite substantially for all three offences.
If the bank or the regulator were to discover this then Amir would be sacked on the spot (excuse the pun), he would be marched from the building, forced to give back any perks he’d received when employed there and then he would never be allowed to work in the financial services industry again.
You could argue spot-fixing isn’t actually throwing cricket matches in a way Hansie Cronje did, but what has happened is simply one step away from that. Amir’s actions could lead to accounts being plundered and customers losing their life savings, the banking equivalent of a thrown cricket match.
The three may well have believed they would never be caught. They may have believed they would be able to stop at any time before they were caught and no one would know. But of course this was never going to happen. Having served the ban they may well feel themselves lucky they were caught as this was perhaps the only way they could be stopped. This is where I am particularly uncomfortable with this whole sorry business.
I am all for giving someone a second chance and if they have learned from their mistakes then this is why we punish people so they can be rehabilitated back into society. But few of us can ever walk back into the job we were sacked from. Where fraud is concerned, no one can ever walk back into financial services again, and in fact few businesses will be willing to trust you with responsibility towards money.
I would have sympathy with either Amir or Asif if they’d lost their family or they were homeless and desperate. But these were people in the privileged position of cricket professionals, internationals no less. If Amir were from humbling beginnings then once he became an international cricketer he would have benefited from riches beyond his wildest dreams. Yet he was still enticed by the idea of making more money. Can you really trust an individual like that? If you could, how long would you want proof they were a reformed character before you did?
Another point to consider is, is it fair to put them back into a position where temptation could be right in front of them? They have already found it impossible to refuse earning money by corruption, and surely putting them back into that spotlight could be considered unfair on them.
Asif is 32 and was already a well-respected bowler of some talent, and he may well find it difficult to get back to that level again in the time he may have left in the game. Amir is 23 and was widely regarded as having the potential to be one of the best bowlers in the world, and he could still return to that level again, but would you ever be able to trust his performances?
Look at cycling and Chris Froome’s latest Tour de France victory. There are some, mainly the French media, who believe he has been taking drugs. This came from his ability to accelerate uphill in a way similar to how Lance Armstrong used to, and so few believe the human body capable of such achievements unaided. They don’t believe any clean rider can perform such feats and therefore must be taking something.
The moment Asif or Amir oversteps the front line, maybe gives their wicket away or simply bowl badly, people are entitled to ask questions. What if they struggle to reach the level they once attained and this denies them the opportunity to earn the sort of wealth they were once heading for? What if someone comes along and offers them that chance of the wealth they believe they are worth, just to make the odd transgression? You would hope they would be unlikely to agree to anything which could be discovered in such a way as they experienced at Lord’s in 2010. But there we are back at this idea spot-fixing is fairly ‘small-time’ and has no bearing on the game overall. It does, it needs to be stamped out and the game should not rest until it is certain it’s gone forever.
Athletics thought it had done that and look where we are with that now. Cricket would serve these three more effectively to not allow them back in a professional capacity and let them find something else to do.
As for Salman Butt, he should never be allowed back in the game, and certainly should never ever be given the role of captain of any team. He groomed Asif and Amir. We don’t know the full circumstances of how he came to choose them rather than other members of the Pakistan team, but we can assume it was a similar decision Cronje made when he asked Hershelle Gibbs and Omar Henry to throw a cricket match. There are reasons other members weren’t asked as they were unlikely to agree, less in need of the money or more likely to cry ‘foul’. If you buy the idea of Amir being a vulnerable, impressionable young lad then you have to feel repulsion for Butt’s systematic and callous preying on him knowing he was unlikely to refuse his captain, one he held in high esteem. From what I have heard and read from Butt in the period following their discovery he is more angry he got caught rather than remorseful for his actions and the shame it brought on his team, country and teammates.
Neither Butt or Asif admitted to their crime at their investigation and only made a confession of sorts once there was no option of them appealing against their bans. Amir admitted his guilt immediately.
Going back to cycling and athletics, the rules denote that drug cheats are allowed back into the sport after a two year ban. I only have sympathy for those who come back denouncing their previous behaviour and making it their duty to educate others as to the folly of cheating and how it can only lead to misery. If Butt, Amir and Asif were to be involved in anti-corruption somehow then maybe I would be more inclined to forgive, but they were fortunate individuals in a privileged position and they abused the level of trust afforded them.