Getting Off That Sticky Wicket
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Getting Off That Sticky Wicket

Fed up of betting scandals? Maybe it’s time to legalise betting in cricket in India.

By Uday Mishra

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Indian cricket seems to have found itself on quite the sticky wicket in the last few months. What with our cricketers and cricket aficionados showing their grasp over cricketing history and reminiscing over the days when cricket was a betting game. Not very different from what it is now, other than that it wasn’t frowned upon then.Lately though, our sportsmen and officials seem to be taking the “betting game” nomenclature of yore, a little too literally.And with all the betting allegations of he bet, no Vindoo bet, no my son-in-law did not bet, I bet you don’t know who did bet…maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to return to the roots of the game and legalise betting again.

There, I said it. And the skies didn’t fall down on me. Maybe all our cricketing woes about how the grand game has been sullied would be forgotten if we simply learnt yet another lesson from our old masters.  Say what?

Let’s contrast two cases. The Indian Premier League(IPL) and the UK-based footballing English Premier League (EPL).The history of fixing in cricketand particularly the IPL (with various cases in the last twoyears)makes for a sordid picture. Match -and spot-fixing is seemingly widespread in India and everyone from the officials to the sportsmen to the owners seem to be involved in it. There is a huge amount of money currently invested in the game and combined with the fact that betting is still illegal in India leads to the collusion of criminal elements and corrupt officials who seek to capitalise monetarily in such a situation.

The Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), presided over by the much-misunderstood N Srinivasan, would have us believe that there is no such thing as fixing in cricket. In three separate cases of fixing over the years, 1997, 2003 and 2013, they have given themselves the clean chit. A bit like making the criminal, the judge and juror of his own case?

In contrast, the very-popular English Premier League is mostly free of the curse of illegal punters intimidating players into spot-fixing or underperforming although there have been isolated cases over the years. Most of the fixing charges against the EPL are the result of bookies from unregulated (illegal) markets (usually Asia) attempting to cash in on the global popularity of the EPL. This has been substantiated by a Europol investigation.While one case of perceived fixing was reported in England, it should be noted that it was a continental tie and the charge has been unsubstantiated since then.

Now back to India where owing to an archaic law formulated in 1867, it is still illegal for anyone to bet on sporting events in India. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, has a widespread betting culture.And it’s culturally acceptable and lawful to bet on sport in the UK. The sponsors themselves are usually betting companies.And since the gambling act of 1960 and the subsequent laws that have evolved with the times, the betting industry evenself-regulates and ensures that shady elements do not enter the field of sports betting because they have to ensure their own reputation. This is why it is exceedingly rare to hear of cases of illegal UK bookies tempting players and officials to spot-fix or throw matches. That’s not to say that fixing doesn’t exist in the UK, but it is extremely rare and most of the officials do not seem to be complicit in it.

See, it’s not like our erstwhile colonisers don’t have a lesson or two to throw our way still. And sport isn’t the only area where there’s been a precedent for legalising an illegal activity – with positive results. Let’s consider the gold trade, before the deregulation of the market in 1992, most of the gold being imported into India was of the black variety – if you know what I mean. When the government regulated the market, people no longer had to resort to unsavoury means to indulge in such activity – which meant that the black market lost most of its clientele and suffered accordingly. Its share in the market was significantly reduced (Source: http://goo.gl/KnZUSM).Since people could not legally indulge in the buying and selling of gold, they had had to resort to illegal means. This is the same case currently with the betting market.

Since we aren’t as evolved a species as we’d hoped we were, it seems that it’s a natural instinct to gamble. And since no legal options remain, you can’t blame the betting-inclined for resorting to Slim Shady deals. Maybe the government could think about bringing such transactions into the ambit of a regulated, free and taxable environment. That way everyone benefits – including the fans, the players, honest officials, the government and even bookies looking to go straight. And given the number of ministers who seem to be officials in BCCI, they’d be the right people to change the rules. After all, if one BCCI president’s son-in-law could do the jiggy with VindooDara Singh, so can another’s.  Might as well legalise things and make life less stress-free, for authorities and common sports lovers alike.

We are doing the game a disservice by letting it fall to such depths. It’s the only sport we have in which we can truly aspire to being world-class. Why tarnish its reputation anymore? Millions of Indians, me included, truly and deeply love cricket and would love to enjoy it without the shadow of doubt nagging at the back of our brains as we cheer and suffer at every victory and defeat of India.

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