Come first week of January 2011, when the Ashes will reach its concluding stages and the present World No.1 test team; India will battle it out against the Proteas in the African backyard, far away in the distant lands of Doha, Qatar, three men on the interrogation end of a long black table will be bombarding three other men on the other end with questions of all shapes and sizes and in the form of demons. The ones facing the chin music will be the tainted trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Ameer and Mohammad Asif, who, as a matter of fact, haven’t yet been proven guilty. As they gear up for which, I suppose, we all expect to be the final verdict on the spot fixing scandal, but followed by a deep and long question mark.
As the three experienced legal figures of Michael Beloff, an English barrister and the head of the ICC Code of Conduct Commission, Justice Albie Sachs, retired South African judge, and Sharad Rao, an Indian origin leading Kenyan barrister put forward factual, legal and contractual questions towards the trio, all of us; waiting in anticipation for the outcome, shall question ourselves whether the fans and preachers of the gentleman’s game have their questions answered or not……….
The answers certainly won’t satisfy the questions raised in the puzzled minds of the millions, who on fine Sunday morning saw a nobody named Mazhar Majeed with bundles of notes in pounds stacked on the table in front of him, a bottle of beer by the side, and carelessly letting himself loose in a ‘recorded’ live broadcast for over millions to see, from across the globe. The revelations not only proved to be too costly for him and the players he managed, but also proved to be another disgraceful stain on the pride of the sport and tore apart the entire cricketing administration of a country, already tattered and shattered.
Sporting heroes construct their sporting careers, their entire lives on just one primary element, reputation…….the reputation of being a fighter, the reputation of being a champion, the reputation of being a man of honor, pride and above all, dignity. So, why after years and years of hard work and perseverance, they let it all slip in a jiffy? How powerful is that one force which can be more driving than the spirit of the game and what makes it so? How big the money is involved that it prompts them to sell off their careers? These for us, the blind believers of sports stars, are the basic questions, which need to be answered, not only in cricket, but in one and all domains of the religion called SPORT.
Match fixing or spot fixing, as in this scenario, are not new to sports, as we all know. And cricket is not the only field where punters keep their watch dogs on alert. Football, tennis, hockey and any other sport to have been played at the international level have had their share of shameful tragedy.
In case of the Pakistanis in this recent incident, the most obvious reason behind their utter illogical, more than unethical, decision seems to be their comparatively poor financial family backgrounds from where they have suddenly emerged (especially in case of Mohammad Ameer, the youngest and brightest talent in Pakistan Cricket) into this cash-rich world where there seem to be ever-rising opportunities of increasing the number of digits on your bank balance in more of a no holds barred scenario. They can be, possibly, spared a thought as the world looks upon them as residents of a country which is in the condition of a ‘ransacked village’, for now. But again, assessing a sportsman’s ‘un-wise’ decision to end his career and yet when he thinks otherwise, can only draw speculations and never definitions.
And for many of us, who may feel that the green haven is the only motivating factor for such deeds of self-destruction, ponder over your stats again. What could have made John Higgins, the former world snooker champion, and a champion of champions for that matter, strike his honor down the hole by the corner?? In April this year, Higgins had fallen victim to the spy operations of the same medium as in the case of the Pakistan cricket team, News of the World, when he was filmed on tape having conversations prior to matches with some alleged bookie. Apparently, at that point of time, Higgins was among the better paid sportsmen around the globe and hailed from what is called “corruption-free” West, from Scotland. Although, finally he could somehow manage to save his career from meeting a dead end, he was slapped on the face with a six month ban and a mere fine of £75,000, which many sports critics termed as a meek decision on the part of the officials.
And what priorities, do you think, could have prompted the captain of the South African Cricket’s surging voyage to crash his personal cruise into the iceberg of corruption, yes, I am talking about Late Hansie Cronje. No, the moolah behind the curtains cannot be the only seducing force that leads to the demise of such tall statures.
Living and dead legends from almost all genres of sport have once or more crossed the LOC. Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, Diego Maradona, Marion Jones, and George Best- intentionally or unintentionally fell prey to one of these: drugs, match fixing, violence against the opposite sex, alcohol, gambling, white-collar offences and the list goes on.
Professor Sandy Gordon, a popular sports psychologist of Western Australia, had tried to find an answer to these questions. He developed a theory; a set of questionnaires called the Hogan Development Survey [HDS], used to study a person’s behavioral traits and changes during stress. The HDS shows traits in a man which we refer to as “the dark side of a personality”, which bears heavy influence on our decision making process when under pressure. The process shows traits which are generally tolerated, also indulged, but when tempted with an opportunity, can derail. Personality traits scale a range which includes types as diverse (yet closely knitted) as “colorful”, “bold”, “mischievous”. Mischievous and bold characters are most evident in the entertainment industry and when the entertainers have their performances jeered in the sporting arena, they are often called “characters” in our cricket terminology.
Different people from different backgrounds act differently when facing same or similar situations. None can explain this notion better than Yasir Hameed, Zulqarnain Haider and Herschelle Gibbs, three men, whose careers are more or less over, thanks to their off-field antics and peculiar revelations (each in its own way). If Herschelle Gibbs showcased utter signs of a douchebag with his war of words against Mickey Arthur and put all the speculations behind the revival of his somewhat-over cricketing career to the death bed, his somewhat meeker counterparts from Pakistan reached even higher pedestals of stupidity on particular occasions (as to single them out from the rest). Yasir Hameed was caught on tape, in a matter of days after three of his team mates were suspended on grounds match fixing; venting out, without any inhibitions, about how deep the roots of corruption in the sport has spread in and especially among his national team mates. And the instance of Zulqarnain Haider, the replacement keeper for Pakistan in the absence of Kamran Akmal, plagued by poor form and conduct, can be termed as one of the most peculiar cases of the ‘code of conduct’ on the part of cricketers. Haider, as we all know by now, had deserted his team in the middle of an ongoing tour, only to be found (sneaking away into God knows which forbidden land) in London’s Heathrow Airport. He cited the reason behind his sudden disappearance as the approach of bookies who tried to lure him out of his wits. Not only has his action inflicted shame upon PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) and his nation, but on the entire cricketing universe. As for latest updates, Haider is close to signing a contract with Lashings, an English county side.
If we turn the pages of the glorifying history of sports and take a closer look, it has always been evident that the best are also the worst; best on-field and worst off it. In one of the most recent chapters, Tiger Woods described what life felt like in the world of elite sport: “I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to, deserve to enjoy all the temptations around me. I thought I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.” These were his answers to the questions “Why?”, “Whatever for?” and “What were you thinking?” And this corrupt world of elite sports stretches beyond our paltry imaginations. Sport Review had reported few months back that only very few major sports were still free from corruption. Financial Services firm Merrill Lynch has projected that the online gambling industry is going to be worth $100 billion by 2015.
Temptations offer themselves in different forms and packages, but they don’t feed on you, rather the parasite that resides in you; “the powerful lure”. But lure for what? Just money? Just for the greed of it? May be the answer is a vague no. Ace tennis player Nikolay Davydenko, in 2007, was alleged to have thrown away a comparatively easy match (which could have been a cake walk for him) against 87th seed Martin Vassallo-Arguello following a meeting with a few bookies. Davydenko, later stated that it’s not all about the money, but the powerful ring surrounding it. But this particular sport has been able to maintain its dignity pretty well, thanks to the proactive nature of the tennis authorities.
Following its footsteps, one of the world’s World Cup 2022 matches football associations; UEFA, has launched probe against 40 matches of last year’s UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. And these are tough times for FIFA when two of its members have been proved guilty of being bribed for supporting USA’s bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. It proves that the buck doesn’t stop with the players only, but the law is broken by the ones who protect and look after it themselves.
Many psychologists and doctors and legends and you-know-who’s from all spheres will now or later, shall always have a say on the mindsets of sportsmen, whenever they breach the popular bookish term (confined in books) “code of conduct”. Some may do it for the lust, the greed, some for the lure of power, or some just for being larger than life. But the end consequences of such incidents, gaining in frequency of occurrence, hits hardest the fans, i.e. you and me.
Gone with the wind are days when sports, for fans like me, was an epitome of the definition of discipline, honor, pride, passion, integrity and above all, the purest form of being clean. In today’s date when the world, in a way, anticipates Dooms Day by 2012 or any time sooner or later, I can foresee my religion being abandoned by demi-gods and preached by money-mongers.
In days of such atrocity, I have a vision; a nightmare. With a 60,000 capacity crowd cheering him at the pitch of their voices as he runs up from his stride to knock the man out, he won’t be sure, he won’t be able to confront the fear standing between him and the wickets, stare him on his face, because he won’t be able to look within himself and say, yes, I deserve to be here.