Will the proposed changes to ICC’s Anti-Corruption Security Unit help curb the fixing menace?

Lou Vincent

When news of former New Zealand cricketer Lou Vincent’s divulgence of information pertaining to match-fixing, to International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Anti-corruption and Security unit (ACSU), filtered through digital and print media last week, not many were dumbfounded. Even when Vincent admitted in the December of 2013 to cooperating with ACSU, who at the time were probing incidents of alleged wrongdoings in few of the Twenty20 (T20) leagues around the world, the turn of events didn’t greatly surprise the fraternity, or followers of the sport.

Indeed, the frequency with which murky details have come to fore during the recent past has abated any astonishment that usually comes with such reports. The apt word would perhaps be ‘desensitisation’, whose definition in psychology, according to Wikipedia, is “diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it.”

A plethora of columns have rightly surfaced on how little is being done by the powers that be to curb the menace and how this eventually leads to diminishing viewer interest. In the spotlight of late is the ACSU, previously berated for their ineptitude in carrying out what’s expected of them. The unit is not in the news for failing to unearth an incident of match-fixing, but because the Big Three — comprising the cricket boards of India, England and Australia — plan to make way for a new ACSU with condensed powers, one that would report to the new chairman of the ICC instead of the chief executive. But is the ACSU really to blame, considering how rickety and unyielding the structure that was built for their operation was?

A few years since its inception, the ACSU was said to have one of the toughest Code of Conduct in comparison to other sporting organisations in the world. It did instil a sense of fear in some Asian bookmakers attempting to corrupt the fallible. But one of the processes involved proving malpractice to former and current international players, and if they weren’t all on the same page, the ACSU had no chance to serve justice to the player in question. This was one of the many drawbacks. So while they managed to “keep one eye on” a few unscrupulous characters, there is little they could do with lack of concrete evidence.

Lack of manpower was also a concern, for when details of murky deals or suspicious activity was mentioned to them by any player or a whistle-blower, they could do nothing about it. Former Pakistan captain Salman Butt’s movements during the 2010 Asia Cup can be a situation in point: the whistle-blower in this case knew of a fix and went to News of the World — who eventually carried out a sting-operation and blew the lid off the case — after the ACSU had failed to react to the information provided by the person, citing “lack of manpower”.

Another drawback stems from relying heavily on the information provided by team-mates of a suspected player — which, by all means, is often a reliable source of snippets. While the ACSU penalises for not reporting a suspicious activity, it does not assure the privacy (although its guidelines state it does) of whatever information it may have received: the leakage of Brendon McCullum’s testimony can be an apt case in point. The threat from bookies notwithstanding, it may be one of the reasons why many cricketers suspicious of one of their team members do not come forward often.

In an article by Daily Mail on Vincent’s confession, is evidence of the aforementioned fact: “After the game, another team-mate Vincent approached was furious. ‘He knew the game was fixed. I just wanted to get out of there.’ Vincent told the ICC he received £40,000 to throw the game — £25,000 from NG and £15,000 from VG.” Why couldn’t this cricketer go to the ACSU with whatever little he knew? In The Telegraph, Iain O’Brien talks about a few games he suspected were fixed during his playing days and now, and writes, “Should I, as an ex-player and now commentator, be reporting suspect activity to the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit? Maybe I should. But, I feel it is so rife that they would get overrun by what I see as suspect actions which have become so blatant that it is hard to believe they even care about our game anymore.”

One cannot blame O’Brien. As Ed Hawkins states in his book Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld, “The ACSU are disparaged, and not just among cricket fans. It has a poor reputation among the players in the world game. Remember that exasperated international captain asking [Haroon] Lorgat why more was not being done prior to the World Cup in 2011?”

What the ACSU needs is empowerment. Weakening its authority could only render the unit more futile.

(You can read more of the changes to ACSU here)