Thursday, November 3, 2011

Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Mazhar Majeed all imprisoned for spot-fixing

Disgraced Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were jailed on Thursday for a fixing conspiracy that the trial judge said undermined the integrity and image of cricket and meant no fan could ever trust what they saw on the field again.

The three players, imprisoned alongside their agent Mazhar Majeed for terms of between two years eight months and six months after fixing elements of the Lord’s Test match last summer, become the first sportsmen to be jailed for on-field corruption in the UK for almost 50 years.

The conspiracy was exposed following a sting by undercover reporters working for the News of the World, who filmed Majeed accepting £150,000.
Sentencing the men to jail terms he hoped would act as a deterrent to others, trial judge Mr Justice Cooke made it clear that the evidence heard in court pointed to the players and Majeed being involved in more extensive corruption than that detailed during the four-week trial, and also suggested the involvement of other players.

Butt was jailed for two years six months, Asif for one year and Amir, who the judge ruled was less culpable than the others, will be detained for six months in a young offenders’ institution. Majeed, described as the architect of the fixing operation, was jailed for two years eight months.
The four showed little reaction as their sentences were read out. All will serve half of their sentences and then be released on licence. Amir and Butt have both launched appeals against their sentences.

Mr Justice Cooke offered a withering assessment of the damage the conspiracy had wrought on the game, saying they had betrayed their countrymen at home, and he demolished the defence and the pleas offered by all four defendants.

“The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skill that you had,” he said.

“You procured the bowling of three no-balls for money, to the detriment of your national cricket team, with the object of enabling others to cheat at gambling. Now, whenever people look back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or whenever there are surprising events or results, followers of the game who have paid good money to watch it live or to watch it on TV, in the shape of licence money or TV subscriptions, will be led to wonder whether there has been a fix and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball. What ought to be honest sporting competition may not be such at all.

“You, Butt, Asif and Amir have let down all your supporters and all followers of the game. These offences, regardless of pleas, are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice to mark the nature of the crimes and to deter any other cricketer, agent or anyone else who considers corrupt activity of this kind, with its hugely detrimental impact on the lives of many who look to find good honest entertainment and good-hearted enjoyment from following an honest, albeit professional sport.”

The judge described Butt and Majeed as the architects of the fixing operation, and blamed the former captain for corrupting Amir, an “unsophisticated, uneducated, impressionable” youngster from an impoverished background.

Tellingly he rejected arguments from the four that their involvement in fixing was confined to Pakistan's tour of England last summer. He pointed to evidence of contact between Amir and a fixer in Dubai, and also found that Majeed was involved in fixing prior to the tour, and had contacts with bookmakers in India and Dubai.

He told Majeed that while he was not certain whether the News of the World case was “the tip of an iceberg”, he was convinced that Majeed had been involved in fixing prior to the newspaper sting.

“It appears that the corruption may have been more widespread than the defendants here before me, and may have permeated the team in earlier days, though I have seen no direct evidence of that,” the judge said.

Lord Condon, the former head of the International Cricket Council's anti-corruption and security unit said that cricket was paying the price for complacency over spot-fixing, and said national cricket boards and players needed to take greater responsibility.

“Some of us have been saying for some years that cricket has become complacent. The big fixes had been stopped but spot-fixing had not, and this sends a very strong message,” he said.

“The ICC has a big problem. It has to do more and national boards have to do more. In the past they have become complacent and they need to do more or risk expulsion from the international game.”

Condon’s successor, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said that the convictions did not mean that fixing was rife.

“I think it is certainly not rampant in international cricket, it is engaged in by a tiny number of people. Sadly it I wouldn’t say the instances we have seen brought to justice are totally isolated.”

Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said the game had to rise to the challenge of tackling fixing.

“The integrity of competition is vital, and the challenge for all of us in cricket is to protect the game’s integrity. I have no doubt that the whole game will rise to that challenge.”

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