Cricket, like sport generally, is but a reflection of life itself. Nothing particularly profound or original in that. Everything we see in sport, be it the highly professional, highly commercialised, highly globalised version, or the stuff at the other end of the spectrum, the local school or club match with nothing but pride and a cheap shiny trophy at stake, reflects what’s all around us. How could it be otherwise? Nothing exists in a vacuum and sport is no exception.  

 

It’s all there in the sporting arena: titanic individual performances, heroic collective endeavour, sacrifice way beyond possible human expectation, and of course, intense human joy and satisfaction that are quite literally beyond words.

 

But the other side of life is there in equal measure. Outright cheating of every conceivable type; match fixing, performance-enhancing drugs, and, of course the ‘professional foul’. Legal, quasi-legal and totally illegal betting of every shape, size and form to satiate the insatiable greed of man. Dirty money sloshing around professional sport in order to enhance the reputation and commercial gain of oligarchs, gangsters and tycoons of every persuasion. All the daily staple of professional and increasingly, amateur sport. Obsessive coaches, obsessive parents and obsessive fans. We want to win at sport just like we want to win at life. Nothing must stand in our way. Morality is for losers. As in sport, so in life.

 

And for many of the talented athletes that make it to the top table, the lure of hedonism is just too great. The celebrity sports soap opera probably started with Georgie Best and it has been down hill into the cesspit of debauchery ever since. John Terry, Tiger Woods and now Wayne Rooney are just the latest in a long line to the trough. It’s not for Sporting Polemics to moralise on individual behaviour, but it’s a little dispiriting to note that the celebrity sporting appetite seems all about quantity and nothing about quality. As in sport, so in life.

 

All of this we take to be self-evident. Yet sport’s latest fall – the shaming of Pakistani cricket – has a contemporary relevance that deserves specific comment. In our sanitised corporate news bulletins, it is easy to forget that our country is at war. It has been at war for nearly two decades. In reality, Britain has been at war for many centuries, trampling over other lands in pursuit of slave labour, compliant markets and cheap resources, essential ingredients that go into creating an empire, but that is another story. Here we will content ourselves with the two wars against Iraq and the seemingly never ending war against Afghanistan. Remember that these wars together have already lasted three times as long as the Second World War, and with no real end in sight.

 

It would be surprising indeed if these neo-colonial wars, fought in our name, were not to have ripple effects way beyond the immediate frontiers of war. And indeed they do. That the Pakistani cricket team is prone to alleged illegal betting practises and now, alleged match fixing, has much to do with Bush and Blair’s, never- ending ‘war against terror’ and nothing to do with a racial stereotype that would have it that ‘these sort of countries’ are always up to no good. For a start, English Professional Rugby, World Snooker, Formula One Racing, The Tour de France, Italian Serie A Football, and South African National Cricket have, to name but a few, all been mired in corruption and cheating in recent years. Cheating is most definitely not the sole preserve of impoverished Asiatic countries, and we need to be crystal clear about this from the very start. Allen Stanford, Hansie Cronje, John Higgins are definitely not from Pakistan. Or as Paul Haywood, writing in The Observer 5/9/10 reminded us;

 

‘The rich European sports industries are in no place to lecture Indian or Pakistani cricket about honour and codes. Betting is professional sport’s dry rot and the temptation is to say; don’t buy this house…. All these abuses prove a painfully simple point: the higher the rewards, the greater the corruption; the more sport is business, the less it is a morality play.’           

 

Richard Williams takes a similar stance in The Guardian;

 

‘Cricket was never wholly a clean game. Whatever we like to imagine, it has seldom been entirely free from the dangerous lure of money, whether it was gentlemen wagering on the outcome of matches during the gambling boom of the 18th century, WC Grace and his brother Edward fiddling the takings at Gloucestershire in the Victorian era, or Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting accepting wads of particularly filthy cash to lead tours to South Africa during the time of Apartheid.’

 

What is special about Pakistan is that it has become embroiled in the West’s, ‘War Against Terror’ firstly by its complicity in the CIA’s dirty war against socially progressive Afghanistan during the 1970’s and 80’s, and secondly through its duplicity with aiding and abetting the Taliban over the past twenty years. As a result, it is now part of the immediate battle ground in the ongoing war with Afghanistan, and thus too unstable to host any form of international sporting fixture. Furthermore, Pakistan’s fraught and tangled relations with neighbouring India, means it is not possible for its cricketers to play in the highly lucrative IPL. Net result; Pakistani cricketers are the poor relations of world cricket and are thus more prone to take a back-hander. Seen in this perspective, Pakistan’s cricketers should be sanctioned but not demonised.  The ripple effect of war has made them as much victims as culprits.

 

End JPK 6/9/10 Copyright

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