Posted on Friday, March 24, 2017
in The Friday Times (Editorial)
The brilliant success of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has triggered both seen and unforeseen consequences.
As predicted, it has spurred investment not just in more cricketing activity in the country – city leagues, talent hunts and academies are all sprouting up – but also in other sports. Hockey, Squash and Kabbadi leagues are on the anvil. Even local football clubs are gearing up for action by imported international football stars. Financial and public interest in a 6th team for the PSL has skyrocketed, which means more competition matches, more top notch foreign players, more sponsors, more fans, more advertising. The icing on the cake is the prospect of PSL returning to Pakistan lock, stock and barrel sooner rather than later, with packed stadiums across the country screaming delight. Come September, the PCB will host an ICC team in Pakistan, paving the way for international cricket teams to return to the country after a drought of eight long years.
Unfortunately, there is a less savoury side to the spectacle. The PSL has also woken up perennially squabbling politicians who want to exploit it for their own parochial ends. The ruling PMLN wants to muscle in so that it can curry favour with the public that has been disheartened by Panamaleaks. It has suddenly realized the enormous potential of high quality sport to divert the attention of the masses from uncomfortable daily realities. But precisely for the same reason, it has aroused the ire of the opposition parties, especially the PTI, that have tried to downgrade the PSL and make it controversial.
More significantly, the PSL has attracted a swarm of bookies, gamblers, sharks and game fixers as in any other successful big money international sport. This has sown the seeds of corruption and is threatening to bring the League and the Pakistan Cricket Board into disrepute. In the past, when such corrupt practices raised their head in international leagues and matches, the PCB was notoriously lax in addressing this problem where Pakistani players were involved. But now one cannot miss the irony in the fact that the current PCB administration has moved swiftly to nip the evil in the bud but an ill-informed, irresponsible and shrill media is muddying the waters with unfounded speculation and false allegations about the ability and motives of the PCB to unearth the full facts of the case and prosecute the errant cricketers. Meanwhile, the federal government has reacted to the public outrage at the greedy cricketers by ordering the FIA to investigate the matter. This has raised the question of whether one cook too many will spoil the broth or whether the PCB and FIA will work in tandem to uproot this menace.
The PCB Anti-Corruption Unit’s defined parameters and procedures in such matters have been activated. The media’s frustration at due process of investigation, show–cause and prosecution, is not justified. The PCB and FIA have now worked out a joint modus operandi whereby the PCB will prosecute the cricketers according to international best practices which can lead to maximum life time bans on playing cricket while working with the FIA to establish players’ links with bookies and help it prosecute all of them for criminality that can lead to prison terms.
Inevitably, the issue is not going to die down in a hurry. Other players may be questioned and face prosecution by the PCB. This is bound to raise controversy about the timing and wisdom of such stringent measures that could seriously deplete the national pool of top cricketers no less than that of emerging stars. Indeed, this process could demoralize the national team and lead to debacles on international tours, further fueling public acrimony and rage.
Regardless, it is time for the PCB to bite the bullet. The current PCB management should take bold steps to stem the rot now instead of pushing it under the carpet like previous PCB administrations did, thereby acerbating the problem. Indeed, if strict measures had been taken earlier, a sufficient deterrent could have been established to avoid the current mess.
The media can play a positive and helpful role in reforming the PCB and educating cricketers by being well informed and responsible. It can do this by changing its attitude and approach towards the PCB. For instance, it can refrain from seeking negative comment from ex-cricketers and ex-chairmen and ex-PCB officials who have either been drummed out for corrupt practices or who are seeking unmerited jobs by blackmailing the PCB. Such people have an axe to grind and should not be allowed to impinge on the game. The media should also see merit in enabling PCB spokespersons to tell the other side of the story without seeming to put them in the dock all the time.
Cricket is a national passion and honour. It should be treated by all stakeholders – players, management and media – with the responsibility, integrity and respect that it deserves in the national interest. The PCB in particular must cleanse its Augean stables and recruit better managers of the game.