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chalk up one for the good guys

News today that the spot-fixing corruption case in London has returned guilty verdicts on the first charges against Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt and leading pace bowler Mohammed Asif. Butt has been found guilty of accepting money for corruption, and both players found guilty of conspiracy to cheat. (Asif's charge of accepting money for corruption is still to reach a verdict). The third player in the trial, Mohammed Amir, is believed to have pleaded guilty in advance. This is a great step forward in the fight against corruption in all sports, not just cricket. It shows convictions can be secured, but it also shows just how difficult they are to achieve.

Lots of finger-pointing at the ICC and their anti-corruption unit today for their poor performance. After all, it was journalists from the now-defunct News of the World tabloid paper that captured all the evidence and then handed a gift-wrapped file to British police. The ICC are caught between a rock and a hard place here. You cannot have a sport's ruling body sending its own people in undercover to do the dirty work - imagine the cries of bias, hidden agendas, racism and anything else if certain players or countries were targetted. The press and the legal system would have a field day. And therein lies the problem. Without concrete evidence, a legal case against crooked players will never hold water. Unless the crime takes place within the jurisdiction of a country which specifically has strict laws regarding corruption in sport, then the investigation is up shit creek before it even starts. Few countries have such laws - it's only new in the UK.

Consider tennis and the infamous Davydenko match a few years ago now in Sopot, Poland. A player using a Russian telephone (access required to get list of phone calls etc) in a country without significant penalties against sporting/betting fraud with the crime allegedly being against customers of UK betting companies, and potentially ten spectators. It's all hearsay and circumstantial evidence unless there is indisputable evidence. Rarely will a player confess to it unless they know the game is up. The Tennis Integrity Unit has penalised a couple of players this year themselves, but will have to defend themselves in a sporting court as well. It's notable that the two players named were low-ranked and known troublemakers - certainly in the Koellerer case, everyone bar the player himself has said 'good riddance' to him.

So how can sporting authorities gather the evidence they need without crossing the line? Without cooperation from local police and Interpol, it becomes incredibly difficult. Is there a case for sporting authorities to unite and hire a specialist investigation unit, created at arm's length from each sport's rulers?

It's easy to jump to conclusions and think this is the beginning of cleaning up all sporting corruption. But we are a long, long way from that. Are we going to see players avoid touring England because it's the only country with laws capable of catching and penalising match/spot-fixers? And will they conveniently use the tax excuse that discourages the likes of Usain Bolt and Rafael Nadal from competing in all bar the premier events?

The ICC have to find a way to back these convictions up with heavy presence at matches. Is the Indian-controlled ICC prepared to admit that the IPL has probably been tainted as well and have henchmen looking over the players everywhere they go? I very much doubt it...

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