Lord Condon: the full interview

Lord Condon, the former anti-corruption chief, has claimed that cricket was tainted by the spot-fixing scandal because the sport took its eye off the “bad guys”.

But in a candid interview with The Cricketer he claims that fixing is not rife in the game, and the number of corrupt players worldwide remains in single figures.

The story appears in December’s issue of The Cricketer, which goes on sale on Friday (November 18). Here is the full transcript of Lord Condon’s revealing interview.

How widespread is fixing – is this the tip of the iceberg?
Since 2000 there have been probably five or six national teams who at some stage have been causing concern and have been closely monitored and scrutinised. In terms of frequency, probably Pakistan has been the most challenging in recent years.

But this is not the tip of the iceberg. Yes, maybe there’s more to investigate around the Pakistan team and in the last couple of years there have been ongoing investigations around a couple of other sides that have caused concerns.

But it is a tiny, tiny number – just a handful of players from a small number of teams that have caused concern in recent years. I would be surprised if it got up to double figures.

There is nothing to suggest this is widespread, or even at the same level as it was in the 1990s, when it seems that many international teams had been drawn into that web of fixing.

I think in recent years it’s been a very small number of players in less than half of the international sides who have been drawn into those sort of issues.

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of cricketers are good honest decent guys who want nothing to do with fixing and that applies to every single team.

What went wrong to allow corruption back into the game?
By about 2007 cricket was getting complacent and the boards weren’t really listening to the warnings so avidly. They were falling on deaf ears because the sport had been kept relatively clear for six, seven or eight years.

But probably the greatest trigger point was the explosion of T20, because it brought with it massively more unregulated cricket, using international players.  The ‘anything goes’ party atmosphere allowed some really bad people back into the game. Some of the notorious fixers from early years started to re-emerge on the circuit in India, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia and the UK.

It almost legitimised the bad guys being back around cricket again.

That whole dynamic of integrity around cricket – what up to then had been pretty tight and regulated, suddenly became a free for all, with tournaments with no anti corruption endeavour at all. The players suddenly saw lots of people making very, very big sums of money. I think the temptation was to do a little fix here and a little fix there and still win the match – spot-fixing – and they were not seeing it as criminal. I think that’s probably what has happened in the last three years.

You look at what we were doing at the World Cup 2003 in South Africa, we were working very closely with the South African police, intelligence services, and we had a hitlist of over 100 undesirables, people around cricket, who just would not have been allowed in South Africa if they tried to get to the tournament. The same happened at the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007.

There was a lot of tightness around the World Cups, but the T20s took away that discipline and rigour we had been enforcing. Anyone could come and go, and fixers were even seen in promoters’ boxes and at matches. It was very clear that this was diluting the cricket.

So the spot-fixing scandal did not surprise you?
No, not really. It was sad, but it was a classic example of what I and others had been predicting to the ICC in recent years – that the challenge was no longer about the fixing of whole matches but about spot-fixing.

Was I surprised it was the Pakistan team? No because they had been considered a dysfunctional team for a number of years, sadly reflecting the turmoil in Pakistan itself, and so they were the most vulnerable to this.

When you had a team as dysfunctional as the Pakistan team, the challenge was to unpick what could be potential spot-fixing and what could be internal rivalries – you had players underperforming to embarrass a captain, etc. You’ve always got egos being played out and part of the thing is trying to unpick that.

The ACSU were actually behind them and trying to build up a case against them at the time when the News of the World story broke.

Understandably the people working with the News of the World were some of the same people working with the ICC and there was clearly more money to be made with the News of the World.

Pakistan is a fabulous wonderful place and no country is more passionate or proud of its cricket heritage. But sadly there is a history and therefore a legacy of quite serious involvement in fixing in the 1990s. Part of that legacy carried over, so there have been bad people who have been able to get close to the team as a result of the turmoil in Pakistan. Certainly they are not the only team to have caused concern, but probably they have been the most vulnerable to this over the years.

Another point is that tragically in January 2010, Lt Col Nur Khawaja died. He was the security officer I appointed and who looked after Pakistani team ever since the Cronje scandal broke – a very distinguished man who became like a father figure to the younger ones. His death also coincided with cricket not being played in Pakistan due to security reasons. Those two things made it harder for the young players to have someone they could trust, and together with the management at the time, some of the team went from being dysfunctional to criminal.

When you established the anti-corruption unit, what was your impression of how deep the troubles ran?
In the 1990s cricket’s credibility was shot, sponsors were moving away from the game, and it was in danger of moving towards wrestling – where people went to watch as entertainment but didn’t really believe the outcome. I think cricket pulled itself back from that situation and had seven or eight years when it was really on top of the challenge. Then I think that complacency and T20 cricket really opened the door again for the bad guys to begin to get back into the game and that’s where they are now. It’s embarrassing and it’s sad, but in a way it’s good that there has been this wake-up call and hopefully good will come from it now.

Can you give any idea of the numbers involved  – and what the ACSU did to fight corruption in your time as its leader?
It has varied from year to year. In my time at the ICC there could be two or three teams causing concerns, and that might have aggregated up to double figures in terms of the numbers of players. That has ebbed and flowed over the years, but it has never broadened out from that very small number of players at any one time. I think the education programme has raised awareness, and people have seen what can happen, they do know the risk.

We saw Maurice Odumbe, the Kenya captain, banned for five years, Marlon Samuels, the West Indian, banned for two years, and there were a couple of domestic players where the request for the ACSU was to help them. But most of the endeavour was around disruption, especially in the subcontinent, working with and supporting the Indian police.

There were significant arrests, largely around unlawful bookmakers, some of whom were potential fixers as well – a lot of stuff that never got reported in the UK press but was often headline stuff in India. There was a lot of disruption of fixers’ movements at major tournaments, and a lot of disruption of early stage grooming. A lot of the younger players in subcontinent teams were interviewed and warned as to their behaviour around doing things which were bordering on disciplinary. That disrupted what they were doing.

The reality is that cricket will never be rid of fixing. The challenge is to keep it to an irreducible minimum. It would be naive to assume that with the volume of betting and the nature of the game giving opportunities to do so, that fixing will ever be totally eradicated. You can have the biggest police force in the world and it will not stop all crime. So an internal sports regulatory body is never going to eradicate ever single instance of spot-fixing. It really needs a team effort to keep it to an absolute minimum.

Is this solely a Subcontinent problem – or does it go wider?
It’s more of a challenge on the Subcontinent. It would be crass to suggest that somehow the players there are more corruptible there than the players on any other side, it’s certainly not that.

Most of the unlawful betting, which probably represents 95% of all cricket gambling in the world, is played out in the Indian Subcontinent. Therefore you have that whole infrastructure of unlawful gambling, you’ve got the fixers, all of that going on, and it means that young players or indeed other internationals can be more vulnerable there than elsewhere in the world.

Also, there is a very sinister side to this, which is about organised crime. There are some very heavy, nasty people who have been involved. Going back to the 1990s, at one stage there was a very serious criminal who virtually had free access to the Pakistan dressing room and was virtually picking the side and ordering what the results should be. At its worst there is a very nasty side to this.

What happens when the ICC ACSU receives intelligence on a player?
There is a historical database, an intelligence database based in Dubai, the equivalent of a police or an intelligence agency database. That would be cross referenced and they would then commission an action plan around how they can take this further. That might involve working with police, it might involve going to informants, it might involve going to some of the lawful betting agents with whom there are memorandums of understanding, such as Betfair, who run quite sophisticated programs. They would build up as much as intelligence as they could. They could commission further intelligence and if it’s actionable they would take further action.

Equally if it was seen as the early stage of grooming a player, the view has always been taken that ethically you should not allow players’ professional lives to be put at risk by allowing them to be drawn in – so a lot of the action is early disruption, warning players, warning teams, management and so on. On cases like Odumbe, Samuels and some of the others, they would build up an action plan and build up the equivalent of a prosecution on internal discipline.

What is your reaction to Andrew Strauss’s claims that the ICC is a “toothless tiger”?
I understand his comments, we’re all angry. I think his anger was legitimate.

Can you explain then why the ICC ACSU cannot carry out sting operations to catch cheating players?
There are a number of reasons why the ICC cannot, and probably should not in the future.

In the UK the laws on entrapment and agent provocateur are pretty strong. So even if the ICC had gone to the British police and said we are going to sting some of our players and we want you to arrest them, I think the police would almost certainly have said ‘no this is a cricket discipline matter, the public interest doesn’t demand it’.

Then there is the ethical matter. Should the ICC have set up something like this at Lord’s in front of the crowds there, knowingly allowing the players to fix?

I’m not saying the ICC should not be more proactive. But the notion of doing a News of the World sting cannot stand, because it would be seen as entrapment.

One of the things we pushed for in the ICC long ago, with Malcolm Speed, was to get every country that plays cricket a piece of criminal legislation to target cheating at gambling for sporting reasons, because my view was the biggest deterrent anywhere in the world was to make it a criminal offence. If someone gets locked up for two or three years that’s more of a deterrent than a cricket fine or ban. The UK have got that gambling legislation now, so it is at the forefront, but even then it’s probably going to be a media sting to enact it, because of the entrapment laws.

What needs to be done now?
Firstly, resources. The ICC and Ronnie Flanagan will review it and I would be amazed if more resources are not applied within the ACSU. Because of the volume of cricket, and the environment around Twenty20, the likelihood of fixing has increased dramatically and that needs to be met with more resources.

Secondly I think the ICC has got to be tougher with national boards. If over time the same team or a small number of teams bring a challenge over integrity, then there must be a progressive scale of punishments for those boards. The nuclear option is teams would have to be excluded from world cricket if they are not getting their act together.’

Thirdly, there has to be a more productive partnership with the players. They need to have a more intimate involvement running of the game at the world level, and accept more of a responsibility.

If you look at most sports – tennis, golf, motor racing – the players have quite significant power around a lot of the administration and rules of the game.

My view, which I put forward in 2001, was that in cricket the players and their representative bodies should be much more heavily involved, so that they take part ownership of the problem.

That was never going to resonate in the India, Pakistan or Sri Lankan cricket boards, where there was no history of that sort of involvement. So in the early years it meant the restrictions on mobile phones were challenged and grudgingly accepted rather than embraced.

And although cricketers have reported approaches over the years, it is nowhere near at the level which I feel they could and should be.

So I think one of the great advances, going forward, is to revisit and renegotiate that relationship with the players. In terms of a partnership approach, they and their representative bodies like FICA, [The Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations] should be busting a gut to see what more they should be doing.

On reflection, the solution is going to be a partnership approach that relies heavily on the players. They have got to report approaches, they know the rules of engagement. Over the years, time and time again the unit has become aware of the preliminary approaches and the grooming of players that were not reported.

At the moment it feels as though the players are on the outside of these issues. There’s got to be mentally and physically a crossover from the anti corruption endeavour being something that is ‘done’ to players, to becoming on their part a feeling of ‘we are part of it, we are the eyes and ears of it, and we have got to report more of our concerns’.

They must be part of the solution.

What’s needed is a more mature response from the players and their respective bodies, and I see encouraging signs. The MCC cricket committee clearly wants to do more, FICA wants to do more.

But it’s a kind of chicken and egg. They have got to have more confidence in the ICC and the process, and the ICC have got to embrace them in a more mature relationship. It must not be like a schoolmaster/schoolboy relationship where the ICC is constantly chastising the players. It has got to be more of a mature partnership.

Follow RDJ Edwards in court on Twitter – @Cricketer_RDJ

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