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September 20, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Pakistan Bowled Over by Cricket Crisis

When News of The World blew apart the match-fixing exploits of Mazhar Majeed, another dark episode of cheating in sport was exposed. In the undercover video, middle-man Majeed ‘predicted’ to the reporters, posing as a member of a gambling cartel, that Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif would deliberately deliver three no-balls at Lord’s in Pakistan’s test against England. Majeed explained, “You know what, the no-balls are the easiest, and they’re the… clearest. Then there’s no risk, no signal”. Betting scandals in cricket have been prevalent since South African captain Hanse Cronjé was charged with match-fixing in 2000.

While cricket in Pakistan is riddled with suspicion and corruption, it merely reflects a broader societal problem. It also highlights the significance that sport—or cricket, in Pakistan’s case—plays in developing identity and national pride. Pakistan has leapt to number 42 in the rankings of the most corrupt countries in Transparency International’s latest survey.

The cricket furore has provided Pakistani newspaper front pages with an alternative to those stories of terrorism or the flood crisis, where three million people still require food and aid, and there is a growing casualty list from the ongoing war against militants. The dishonesty of the cricketers prompted lawyer Ishtiaq Ahmed Chaudhry to file a petition before the Lahore High Court accusing those embroiled in the scandal of high treason. Chaudhry recognises the audacity of the charges, particularly as it relates to a sporting case. The petition, he claims, echoes a public desire for justice: “We’re already facing the floods and the problems of militancy. In this chaotic situation… we can’t afford for our heroes to be… betraying the constitution and the people of the nation for the sake of a few dollars.”

In reality, the players are not taking “a few dollars”. Majeed earlier bragged to reporters that they have made “masses and masses of money”. He suggested that it was the players who approached him: “This is the beauty of it. These poor boys need to. They’re paid peanuts.” The Pakistanis reportedly earn around £3000 per test, but it still pales in comparison to the English and Australian cricketers. Asif receives under £1900 a month, whereas England’s top centrally contracted cricketers can pocket up to £250,000-£400,000 annually. Those figures will not allay the disappointment and embarrassment of a nation, nor its Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani, who has said the bribery allegations have forced Pakistan to “bow its head in shame”.

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