Cricket and Integrity

What is integrity? It is the exact manifestation of inner values as outward actions. We expect integrity of ourselves, and of our leaders and our governments. Society is a fragile construct and without the essential glue of integrity, it would fall apart. 

Sports have a major role in our society and are subject to the same expectations of integrity. The people watching and supporting it need to have the confidence that the contests upon which they are expending enormous amounts of emotions, time and money are fair. Hence the need for drug testing and constant vigilance against fixing, bone density tests and corruption. But these measures only apply to the participants in the contests themselves – the athletes and the players, but not to the ones that are governing and administering the sport.

Case in point: Cricket and the ICC. The ICC includes “Fairness and Integrity” in the set of values that drive its goal of making cricket “a bigger, better global game”. But even a casual look at some of its conduct in the recent years would show that its outward actions are not the manifestation of its stated inner values.

Three years ago, BCCI, ECB and CA ran roughshod over the organization and its principles in what can only be called as a naked money grab, while the other ICC members allowed it to happen, motivated by their own greed and needs. With change in personnel, some of the damages from the Big Three takeover are being undone, while some will forever stick.

Yesterday, ICC unveiled the Champions Trophy 2017 tournament to be held in England. The draws and schedules were announced and Jonathan Liew at the Telegraph minced no words in calling the deliberate scheduling of India-Pakistan match in the group stage as fixing the draw, and he is right. ICC Chief Executive David Richardson dressed up this deliberate attempt to rig the schedule that guarantees the marquee (only in terms of TV viewer numbers and not quality of contest) match-up takes place as follows: “It’s hugely important from an ICC point of view. It’s massive around the world and the fans have come to expect it as well. It’s fantastic for the tournament because it gives it a massive kick.”

The underlying thoughts are easy to comprehend. ICC is beholden to the broadcasters (in this case, STAR) and had to ensure the broadcasters will get the bang for their buck, integrity of the draw be damned. Ever since the 2007 ODI world Cup when India and Pakistan failed to progress beyond the first round, and the broadcasters suffered losses, ICC has been bending over backwards to ensure, first and foremost, the interests of the broadcasters are catered. It is no surprise that Mr. Richardson could talk on one hand about meritocracy of promotion and relegation in the proposed two divisions of Test cricket, while also saying that “[n]o doubt we want to try to put India versus Pakistan in our event”. The two divisions will be made of 12 teams, 7 in the first division and 5 in the second. You might wonder why 7 and 5, and not the seemingly obvious 6 and 6. First of all it takes 7 votes (of the 10 Full ICC member nations) to pass a proposal and secondly, keeping it at 7 guarantees that the big TV markets are all part of the first division, and hence makes it a lucrative product for the broadcasters.

Any which way you turn in cricket, it is impossible to miss the conclusion that it is the broadcasters that dictate the proceedings. Cricket has caught on so firmly to the teats of the broadcasters for its funds that any other financial model that doesn’t make the sport a slave would require a complete overhaul of the sport itself, and that would require tremendous will and vision from the member boards. But why do the hard work of steeling the sport with a strong back bone of integrity when you can just wheel and deal, and ensure the fans get to watch over-hyped rivalries from time to time? Sure, Champions Trophy 2017 would be the *sixth ICC event in a row where India and Pakistan have been scheduled to meet in the group stages, but we are giving the broadcasters fans what they want.

You really want to know how much ICC really cares for the integrity of the sport and the results of its contests and not the broadcasters? You will have to look no further than the Duckworth-Lewis method (now modified as DLS) it had adopted to artificially arrive at the result of a cricketing contest.

Here is what Messers Duckworh and Lewis stated as the need for their method (as included in the FAQ listed at Cricinfo): “Players (and officials) need to move on to their next matches for which transport (and hotel) arrangements will have been made and are often difficult to rearrange at such short notice. TV companies covering the matches would prefer to avoid upsetting their schedules both for their viewers and their outside broadcast crews. The ground’s management would need to employ all their staff again incurring extra expense.”

When the result of a game, and basic belief of players and the fans that “anything can happen” till the last ball is bowled or the last out is made, is compromised at the altar of expediency and profits, we can expect no better from the administrators than to rig the schedule to ensure broadcasters – profit-driven corporations – are not discomforted in any manner.

During the recently concluded World T20 held in India, there was so much hoopla surrounding the India-Pakistan game. After all the politicking of venue, security etc., were done, the stars and the celebrities showed up en masse at Eden Gardens for this marquee match up. While Amitabh Bachchan and Mamta Banerjee were singing praises and covering themselves in patriotic glory in Kolkata, there was another India-Pakistan match in Delhi that was brought to an abrupt, artificial conclusion. Defending a seemingly small total of 96 runs, the Indian Women had reduced Pakistan to 77/6 in 16 overs when rain interrupted. Even as rain relented, and the sun shone bright with the ground ready for play, the game was called off with Pakistan declared winners by 2 runs using the DLS method. Care to venture why? The broadcasters needed the cut off time so that their transmission from Kolkata of the pre-match nonsense preceding the clash of the arch-rivals could go unhindered. Who knows what could have happened in that Women’s game? Who knows how the rest of the tournament would have panned out if India were able to defend their low total? We will never know. So much for integrity of sporting results.

It isn’t just that a draw for a tournament is rigged to ensure best possible outcome for the broadcasters, or that a statistical device is used to conclude a sporting contest to ensure no undue burden is placed on the broadcaster, or that boards with the bigger muscles bullying the others in to compliance; These are only the things within cricket we know of. But once we are willing to compromise on the integrity of a result, or a draw, we can extend it to almost every decision that’s taken in running the sport so that it satisfies the broadcaster or whoever the big boy at the table is, or what’s convenient, and that isn’t good for the sport or the society it lives in.

  • – Thanks to @shyamuw for catching the error. The original version said 2017 Champions Trophy as fifth ICC event in a row where India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet in group stages.
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