Evening Standard

Man of power: Lord Condon, outside the Houses of Parliament, spent a decade with the ICC. Image courtesy of Evening Standard.

There can have been few observers of cricket’s spot-fixing trial who have a better knowledge of the threat the issue poses to the game than Lord Condon.

After all, in 2000 he set up the ­International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption unit, which he chaired for a decade.

We meet in the wake of the convictions of the three Pakistan cricketers, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, who conspired to bowl deliberate no-balls during the Fourth Test with England last year.

While Lord Condon is concerned with the rise of spot fixing – trying to manufacture a specific incident in a game – he reveals the extraordinary levels of match fixing that were once rife in the sport and says they were not confined to the sub-continent.

“In the late 1990s, Test and World Cup matches were being routinely fixed,” the 64-year-old peer says. “From the late Eighties certainly through to 1999-2000 there were a number of teams involved in fixing, and certainly more than the Indian sub-continent teams were involved.

“Every international team, at some stage, had someone doing some funny stuff. A whole generation of cricketers playing in the late 1990s must’ve known what was going on and did nothing. When they look back on their careers, a bit of shame must creep in. The last fixes of whole matches, or even series, were probably in 2001 before we’d really got the unit going.”

He then adds: “You and I will have to be very careful we’re not involved in saying things which could get us into legal trouble.”

Keen to emphasise that match fixing is not a sub-continental speciality, Lord Condon places this country at the very root of the problem.

“It started with friendly fixes in the UK in the old Sunday leagues,” he says. “Over a weekend you’d have a county side playing their county match and then a Sunday league match and there would be friendly fixes, not for money but for manipulating places in the leagues. If you’re Team A and have a higher position in the Sunday league and I’m captain of Team B and my team have no chance in the Sunday league, I might do a deal to ensure you got maximum points in your Sunday league match. You would reciprocate in the County Championships. These friendly fixes quickly became more sinister, probably in the Eighties.”

In the decade that followed, despite much media speculation about match fixing, the cricket authorities only took action in 2000, when South Africa captain Hansie Cronje was unmasked for taking money to rig games.

That is when Lord Condon, having just retired as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, was approached by the ICC to set up their anti-corruption unit. “The game was in meltdown, sponsors were walking away, demanding their money back,” he says.

After initially turning the job down, Lord Condon targeted stamping out the problem for the 2003 World Cup and is sure he delivered a clean tournament, helping eradicate wholesale fixing of matches.

However, he reveals, the competition in South Africa may have marked the moment when spot fixing arrived. “In one group match during a couple of overs two guys suddenly went from scoring runs in double figures to just ones and twos. For spot fixing, that’s all you need.”

A panel of former Test players shown the footage could not agree if this was corruption.

Naturally, Lord Condon will not name the players involved but says: “From 2003 spot fixing became the name of the game.”

And he believes events such as the $20million match between England and a Stanford All-Stars team in 2009 – the brainchild of businessman Allen Stanford, who is in jail facing fraud charges – and, in particular, the launch of the money-spinning Twenty20 Indian Premier League a year earlier, left some players determined to profit from the game regardless of how they did it.

Lord Condon says: “The frenzied commercialisation of Twenty20 changed the whole dynamic. Cricket lost control of its integrity for about 18 months. People lost sight of what cricket was about. So you had the saga of helicopters landing at Lord’s, that whole Stanford thing with a million pounds coming out of helicopters.

“This made it easier for cricketers to have a twisted logic. ‘Well, everyone else is making squillions. All I’m going to do is bowl a couple of no-balls. I’m not even going to affect the outcome. We can still win, I could still be man of the match and a hero.'”

Lord Condon was sufficiently alarmed to warn the ICC Board at a meeting at Lord’s in 2008. “I remember saying you’ve got two choices. You can either say T20 is such a crazy form of the game, you quarantine it. If current Test players go into that, they can’t come back to Test. But that would never work. You’ve got to have a fit and proper regime, as you would with gambling, and a proper anti-corruption endeavour to monitor tournaments.

“However, there was a lot of anger from the Indian representatives who said I had no right to suggest that. They felt I was challenging the legitimacy of the IPL.”

But if Lord Condon saw the danger why did his anti-corruption unit, now headed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, not carry out a sting as the News of the World did to catch Butt, Asif and Amir?

“We considered it and a policy decision was taken that, firstly, it would be highly unlikely the police would prosecute. They would say, ‘This is entrapment, the cricket authorities setting up their own people.’ The laws of entrapment are pretty clear. And, secondly, in our early education programmes, cricketers were told, ‘If you’re approached for a fix, this is not some scare by cricket trying to set you up and then giving you a b********g. This will be for real either by fixers or journalists. So, if you get involved, you must take the consequences.'”

In fact, Condon had long told the ICC to watch out for a News of the World-style operation and when it took place advised them to prosecute the cricketers. Not surprisingly, having persuaded the Government to make cheating in sport a criminal offence in the 2005 Gambling Act, he has little sympathy for the cricketers, not even 19-year-old Amir, who was given six months a in young offenders institution.

“Amir is an unsophisticated young man,” he says. “If you’re put in an environment where you think your future career is threatened if you don’t do what your captain’s asking you to do, and there’s no one in the team management you feel you can go to, in that sense you feel sorry for that young man. But that’s not to say he doesn’t deserve a symbolic punishment. He’s the only one I have even a moderate amount of sympathy for. To keep cricket clean sentences have to be exemplary.”

The fast bowler was given the lightest of the sentences at Southwark Crown Court, with captain Butt jailed for two and half years and Asif for a year.

Lord Condon is well aware of the pressures Pakistani cricketers can come under and he narrates a story from 2001 which sounds more like something out of the pages of John le Carre than ­Wisden. “We had this Pakistani cricketer who was genuinely frightened that if he had revealed what he knew, there would be repercussions on his family. He was a very valuable informant. We flew him from Pakistan at the ICC expense and put him up in safe accommodation in London for about a week while we debriefed him.”

He is adamant that cricket must now implement two of the measures he recommended back in 2001. “The players must be involved. Cricketers have less power than players in probably any other major sport like golf, tennis or football. The anti-corruption endeavour was always something done to them, never with them. There was a grudging reluctance by players to have anything to do with the anti-corruption endeavour.”

Even before the trial, England captain Andrew Strauss told Standard Sport that the authorities were not doing enough to deal with the problem.

Lord Condon says: “I understand Strauss’s anger. They want someone to be able to wave a magic wand and say it’s all gone away. But life isn’t like that. Intelligent and sophisticated people like Strauss have to be part of the solution. And cricketers on the Indian sub-continent have to have confidence in their boards so they can whistle-blow. In recent years, there’s been very little whistle-blowing from current players.”

In the wake of the trial the ICC have appointed an external review team to look at their governance. Condon has long argued the governing body should get tougher with the cricket boards.

“It’s got to say to all their boards, ‘Look, this must never happen again.’ Boards who are negligent can’t just wash their hands and say, ‘Isn’t it terrible some of our boys did this?’ One way forward if a board are consistently negligent in taking strong anti-corruption measures, they must be ultimately excluded from playing for a limited period of time.”

Condon admits this is the “nuclear option” but warns: “I don’t think spot fixing’s going to go away. As long as people are playing cricket, there is always going to be a threat. This is a huge wake-up call.”


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