Sport governance needs to improve following betting conspiracy convictions, experts says

Out-Law News | 03 Nov 2011 | 3:35 pm | 3 min. read

The jail terms handed to three Pakistani cricketers and an agent for their involvement in a betting conspiracy shows sport in general needs to get a better handle on corruption, a sports law expert has said.

Earlier today Mr Justice Cooke sentenced (9-page / 138KB PDF) former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt to 30 months in jail for conspiring to corruptly accept payments and conspiring to cheat at gambling. The judge also sentenced players Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif to six months and one year in jail respectively and handed agent Mazhar Majeed a 32 month jail term for their part in the conspiracy.

Mr Justice Cooke said the four would have to serve half of their sentences in custody before being released "on licence".

On Wednesday Southwark Crown Court had ruled that the cricketers had "conspired together" with Majeed to "give advance information about the bowling of no balls" for which they were to be paid.

Trevor Watkins of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said that integrity was "essential" in sporting competitions.

"Integrity is the foundation on which sport is able to build value through commercial rights, inspire individuals and communities and preserve the knowing that in any match, game or event there is always uncertainty of the end result," Watkins said.

"The significant penalties in this case will act as a deterrent. Beyond that, however, it highlights the need for sport to continue to improve governance, education and support for individuals that in turn will lessen the likelihood of individuals being persuaded to throw away careers for short term gain.”

On Wednesday Southwark Crown Court found Butt and Asif guilty of two offences under the Criminal Law Act. Amir and Majeed had previously pleased guilty to the charges.

The Act states that individuals are guilty of conspiring to commit an offence if they carry out actions "in accordance with their intentions" that they had agreed with others that "will necessarily amount to or involve the commission of any offence or offences by one or more of the parties to the agreement, or would do so but for the existence of facts which render the commission of the offence or any of the offences impossible".

Under the Prevention of Corruption Act a person can be jailed for obtaining or accepting, or agreeing to obtain or accept, "any gift or consideration as an inducement or reward for doing or forbearing to do ... any act in relation to his [employer's] affairs or business, or for showing or forbearing to show favour or disfavour to any person in relation to his [employer's] affairs or business".

The cricketers were also found guilty of conspiring "to do an act or acts to enable another or other persons to cheat at gambling", which is an offence under the Gambling Act.

In sentencing Mr Justice Cooke said that the offences were "so serious" as to merit jail time.

"These offences, regardless of pleas, are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice to mark the nature of the crimes and to deter any other cricketer, agent or anyone else who considers corrupt activity of this kind, with its hugely detrimental impact on the lives of many who look to find good honest entertainment and good-hearted enjoyment from following an honest, albeit professional sport," the judge said.

Mr Justice Cooke said that spectators may not be able to trust in the integrity of cricket following the scandal.

"'It’s not cricket' was an adage. It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it which make the offences so serious," Mr Justice Cooke said.

"The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skill that you had. You procured the bowling of 3 no balls for money, to the detriment of your national cricket team, with the object of enabling others to cheat at gambling," the judge said.

"Now, whenever people look back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or whenever in the future there are surprising events or results, followers of the game who have paid good money to watch it live or to watch it on TV, in the shape of licence money or TV subscriptions, will be led to wonder whether there has been a fix and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball. What ought to be honest sporting competition may not be such at all," he said.

Mr Justice Cooke ordered all four men to pay contributions towards the costs sustained by the prosecution. Butt must pay £30,937, Amir £9,389, Asif £8,120 and Majeed £56,554, the judge ordered.