Corrupters now target people who know the captain: ICC ACU head Alex Marshall

Back in 2018, during an ICC media day event, Marshall had given the lowdown on how captains were targeted. Tightening the noose and more awareness among players have brought in a change in approach since.

The captain and senior players in a cricket team remain the ultimate targets for corrupters but their mode of operation has undergone a change, the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) head Alex Marshall said.

“Their ultimate target remains the same. Corrupters love captains, they like the opening batters and they like the opening bowlers,” Marshall said during an interaction with a select group of reporters on the sidelines of the T20 World Cup.

Back in 2018, during an ICC media day event, Marshall had given the lowdown on how captains were targeted. Tightening the noose and more awareness among players have brought in a change in approach since.

T20 remains the favourite format for corrupters, but they aren’t trying to manipulate the result of a game. “They usually try to manipulate T20s; two overs, at the most four overs. It’s not the result. It’s not a no-ball. It’s not the toss. It’s elements in a phase of the game. Why they have changed their approach is because now people report straight to us. (So) they are trying to put in near that person an ex-player, team manager… So you can see the shift, instead of trying to corrupt the captain, they corrupt someone who knows the captain well,” Marshall elaborated.

The ACU has identified franchise leagues as most vulnerable. “Vulnerability comes particularly in franchise tournaments, where there’s a lack of care about who the franchise owners are. Our experience over the last two years is that the most persistent corrupters will try and get a grip within a franchise,” he said.

Two recent cases of corruption in franchise-based leagues took place in the Lanka Premier League in 2020 and the Tamil Nadu Premier League a year before that. The events at the LPL led to the Sri Lankan government criminalising match-fixing, while a corruption probe resulted in the expulsion of two co-owners of a TNPL franchise.

This is a reason why the ACU head felt that background checks of franchise owners have been necessary. “We are issuing guidance on what are the due diligence questions you should be asking if you are running a franchise league. For example, where exactly does all the money they are paying come from? Are they the sole financer or there are a series of people behind them who are providing money? We are providing that guidance across all of cricket.”

Hotbed of malpractice

Cricket corruption has a vast geographic spread but the source, by and large, remains the unregulated betting markets in India. “Usually, the corrupters are linked to the unregulated betting markets in India. Nearly always. The case can be (for example) in Zimbabwe or Namibia or PNG (Papua New Guinea), wherever it might be, but if we identify where the corruption has come from, nearly always the unregulated betting markets in India, because they have the biggest volumes. And they are unregulated, so you can’t see,” Marshall said, adding that currently, the ACU has “40 to 50 live investigations pretty much everywhere; Africa, mainland Europe, Asia”.

Regulated betting markets work in tandem with the ACU and make things easier for the watchdogs. But unregulated betting markets create serious problems. “We have very good relationships with the regulated betting industry and they talk to us a lot. So if they see something strange (in the betting pattern) and if something upsets the data because it’s an unusual thing that ruins their algorithm, they are very good at alerting us. That’s the regulated market and the real money is in the unregulated market.

World Cup to World Cup is usually the stock-taking period for the ACU, and a major shift in the pattern is that the corrupters are going into the lower leagues and targeting cricketers who are vulnerable. They have spread their wings in mainland Europe too.

“They are going for lower and lower levels of the game. In the last 12 months, the same corrupters who have been corrupting international cricket are going for club matches in the European league. Basically, the players they are approaching now are refugees who have come from other countries and they are offering them 3000 euros to underperform in a match,” Marshall said.

Marshall mentioned that the ACU didn’t see fantasy leagues as threats corrupting cricket.

Legalising sports betting a govt call

Making sports betting legal in India will be a big blow to the corrupters and a shot in the arm for the investigating agencies, but the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit’s general manager Alex Marshall left it to the Indian government to take a call on this matter. Nearly all corrupt approaches in cricket originate from the unregulated betting markets in India.

“In terms of unregulated betting markets, if they are regulated, you can view them, you can run algorithms and you identify the anomalies that are happening in betting. A recent example, just before a bowler came on in a franchise league, a massive swing in betting market that the bowler was about to concede a whole lot of runs.”

He elaborated on how a regulated sports betting industry can help the investigating agencies by sharing information about odd betting patterns, helping the ACU put together other intelligences as well. “But in unregulated markets, you can never do it and the Indian betting market is enormous,” Marshall said. However, on the question of whether India should legalise sports betting, he remained non-committal. “…it’s for the Indian government to decide what they want to do about it.”

Incidentally, in 2018, the Law Commission of India had recommended legalising sports betting with proper regulation.

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