There are some occasions when it really pains me to be a blogger. I don’t have to write this blog; I don’t really need to do this, and by blogging’s very nature, the whole thing is self-indulgent. But sometimes you have to write about something you really don’t want to because it is almost expected of you. The subject is so overwhelming, so front and centre, that to ignore it would be a dereliction of my duty to you. It’s almost required to say something when so much of what is out there is so annoying. That subject, if you cannot guess, is Mohammad Amir.
I’m fed up with people getting on high horses. Taking the moral high ground is surrounded by slippery slopes. It’s about trusting the people who made grievous errors to right the wrongs. Yet when it comes to British sport, it’s easier to forgive and forget our mis-steps than it is those of a team we have had an interesting relationship with over the years. It’s easier to be righteously indignant over the crimes of a young kid, than it is a major legend. I have to say, Mohammad Amir is walking into a storm, and I don’t know how he will cope.
Let me give you an example. Don’t misquote me by saying I’m comparing two incidents as moral equivalents. I’m not. It’s about how we reacted to them.
In 2006 Christine Ohuruogo was banned for one year for missing three out of competition drug tests. These tests were introduced in an attempt to catch those who were doping outside of the main events where tests were routine, but where anyone with any sense would not get caught. Anyone who has read any of the Lance Armstrong books will know how doping went on, and these tests hardly stopped him, but they were part of the anti-doping regime. It is part of an athlete’s job to give location notification, it is a part of a campaign to stop cheating, and anyone falling foul of it would and should be punished.
Ohuruogo took her punishment (on the face of it, quite lenient at one year), came back and won world and Olympic medals. She was magnificent in her return to the sport. You heard barely a murmur about her offence, except when a number of the British commentariat were making excuses for her. Whether unwittingly or not, and we’ll never truly know, Christine had not abided by the rules, and she had to be punished. It was a clear, plain transgression of the laws. For to believe her excuses, to allow her to miss three tests without punishment, would be to undermine the fight against doping in sport. But she was forgiven, and she moved on, as did we as we cheered when she won gold in Beijing.
Now, I hear you say, that this isn’t remotely comparable to an 18 year old, possibly under duress, from spot fixing and profiting out of a sport by fixing a specific, if small, outcome. What do you think dopers do? Why do you think that there are rules in place? Those people who win medals and the prize money and sponsorship gains that they achieve on the back of doping are every bit as much cheating the sport as the spot fixers and match fixers in cricket. So if you can forgive people for doping offences, for skipping tests, then why does Amir warrant such abuse for two no balls, in among a spell when he was otherwise lethal and dismissing England batsmen?
There are a number of pieces on whether Amir should be playing in this test series. The fact is that he got caught, went to prison and then served a five year ban. His freakish talent should not be an issue AT ALL in this. The case should have been judged on the facts, the mitigations and reasons should be taken into account, and then the verdict be respected and honoured. You may be of the view that such offence should be punishable by a total ban – that is your opinion and you are entitled to it – but you aren’t the judge and jury on this. Neither am I. We can hold opinions. If you do not like the verdict of the decision making panel, you have a number of options – one of which is to withhold your ticket money and your Sky subscription for matches you may have attended, or may want to watch. After all, money is all in sport these days. However, what is perturbing me is the option being espoused pretty openly by ex and current players. You should show your contempt in the flesh, by booing him. (on re-checking the main individual’s quote, I might have over-reached on the booing him bit. He said he would get abuse….but I got spun that he was advocating. That said, there are plenty thinking abuse would come, and not a lot telling us we shouldn’t).
You see, when people like me pointed out that Ohuruogo may have got off a bit lightly and that if she were a Russia athlete you’d probably be spitting tacks if she’d denied one of ours a gold medal, I was told that there were mitigating factors, and that she had served her ban and been punished. You certainly wouldn’t have advocated me switching off the TV, booing her on any UK appearance, or going into the papers saying her gold medal was tainted. But because Amir has done something so heinous (a couple of no-balls in a match where he took five wickets and undressed some of our top batsmen’s technique, don’t forget), so much a betrayal of the cricketing firmament that he is beyond the pale, and paid heavily for it, I’m supposed to get outraged. Abuse him. I’ve seen it said that Pakistan should never have picked him again – if that was said about a certain individual I’ll come to later, I might have missed it. Because I don’t recall it.
You can have the right to not approve. Of course you can. But you don’t make the rules. I’m perfectly comfortable with Amir playing. He knows another transgression and he’s gone. He has paid the debt determined by a panel of his peers, and served the time of the courts of this land and the international suspension, and, importantly, cleared to return. Anything else over and above that, seems to me, slightly vindictive. Which brings me to KP’s contention that all match fixers and drug takers should be banned for life.
Such clickbait should be ignored because its clearly not been thought through. Sport is not special. Sport is a business like any other. People who mess up, break the law etc get punished but come back to work in their areas of specialism because as a people we should be forgiving and accepting of those that have paid their debt to society, and also, it benefits us if they come back productively and aren’t a burden to society.
Under KP’s edict, it is doubtful at which point he would have wished Shane Warne’s international career ended – after the weather reports to John, or whoever it was, in India, or after his capture for taking a banned diuretic which just happened to be one of the prominent masking agents for steroids out there. Long-term readers of mine know precisely what I think of Australia’s hilarious hypocrisy over Warne (a one year ban? Really?) but KP thinks he should have been done? Or does he believe in mitigating circumstances? I’m not sure. I’ve never heard him get angry about Shane’s drug mistakes.
Those hardliners, the pious ones, who think nothing of not walking when they nick it, appealing for something when they know it isn’t out, who would take every advantage they could in an effort to win a game, even if it was fuzzy in its legality, are pontificating and telling me I should boo Amir on Saturday, when I go to Lord’s? Really? Is this the same pious crowd who bemoan the terrible abuse Alastair Cook gets? That dutiful men who served England well get? No, I’m not comparing apples with oranges. As far as the cricket establishment goes, Amir has every right to play cricket. You might not agree, but you shouldn’t be cajoled into fighting someone else’s battles.
Cricket has a gambling problem, and it is from a gambling sting that Amir got caught. So do many sports have a difficult relationship with betting. They welcome the money that the sponsorship of betting companies might bring, with the synergies between Sky Sports and Sky Bet particularly interesting to me, while not thinking of the somewhat mixed messages that might entail. You can bet on almost anything. Part of me thought the Super Series was only introduced to give another thing you could bet on. You had Graeme Swann a couple of years ago appearing in an ad which was for a betting company that said it was “by players, for players”, which was about as dense as it could get for tone deafness. The ODI and T20 circuses exist for betting, context meaning naff all, betting revenue and TV participation being the be all and end all. Yet that linkage is never explored, instead someone who bowled a couple of no balls in a test match is the lightning conductor for the rage. I’m a little mystified. We have a sport that openly admits that it rigs international draws so that England play Australia and India play Pakistan. We have a sport that doctors pitches.
I watch sports around the world, and they are adjusted to suit the TV and entertainment needs more than the need for a sporting contest. Take the recent NBA Finals. The TV networks, the NBA, hell, everyone wanted a Cavaliers v Warriors final. In the semi-finals, the Warriors were trailing to the Thunder, and one of their key players committed a foul that should have had him banned for the next game. They didn’t. Although not a factor, that player was part of the Warriors team that came from 3-1 down in the best of 7 series to win. In the Finals, with the series at 3-1, a much more minor indiscretion by the same player got him banned for the 5th game, and the other team got it back to 3-2, won at home to make it 3-3 and the NBA had 7 Finals games to show to the USA and the world. One could make a pretty good case that it was a very convenient outcome. You don’t think it possible, just read about NBA Western Conference Final, Game 6, 2002. Hell there’s a book about the way the sport was “manipulated”. So a couple of no balls and we are getting all prissy here?
On a cricket level I would love to see Amir bowl on my day at the test. On a moral level, I’m a little queasy, but not all that, because I’ve seen a punishment. I think going to jail and being banned for 30% of his career is quite a tough punishment. Sport is full of questionable characters, governing bodies rigging, so spare me the moral piety of sanctity of the game, when players cheat to gain any advantage they can. And I’ve managed to spin over a thousand words out on a subject I never wanted to talk about.
Plus ca change.
Very good Dmitri.
You lost me on the American stuff but on the cricket you have put a very good case. Amir has served his sentence, his ban has run its course and he is back. So let him be. I would not like to see him booed or abused.
I have learned that zero tolerance makes for poor justice but I do understand those who support a life ban to protect the integrity of the game they are watching.
Sure there is non walking, bogus appeals and debatable catching, but none of that compares to fixing a match for money if things should go that far and I’m sure they do. it makes the sport that you have paid to see worthless. If the little things like spot fixing can be excused to a point it sends a mixed message.
I felt very sorry for Amir at the time of the incident because he was a highly gifted young lad on the brink of a fine career, compromised and betrayed by his Captain. No one should have to suffer that. I wish him well.
A thoughtful piece, thank you.
For myself, I’ve said before that as a young ethnic child, the desperation of the English Cricket establishment to forgive the rebel tours of South Africa made me pretty wary of calls for “life bans” for cricketers from other nations.
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A great couple of posts Dmitri. You are definitely back on form with this one.
I find it sad that English cricket openly now encourages the booing of a player. ( although after KPs treatment at finals day they have got the taste for it.) That in itself is an indication of how cricket is losing its mind. As you say, he was found guilty in an English court, not a Pakistan one, and was sentenced to jail in an English prison. The fact he has not been banned for life is down to the ICC. You can wish he was, but he wasn’t. Get over it.
What is even more galling, and we have witnessed this over the last few years is the fake nicesness of the English cricket establishment. Not only that, but the moral superiority that makes you want to vomit. How many bankers will be at Lords over the next few days? Seeing how many crimes they have avoided as to big to both fail and jail? We learn that The govt intervened in 2012 on behalf of HSBC for money laundering of Mexican drug cartel money. These are charming people. They behead their opponents. Anybody turned down HSBC sponsorship lately? And don’t get me started on Goldman Sachs and their avoidance of criminal prosecution for flogging credit default swaps to their clients and then betting against them.
Spot fixing is an interesting idea. I remember when the betting craze took off with all kind of little things you could bet on. Football players were openly admitting they would kick off by booting the ball straight into touch for the first throw in. They of course had already bet that the first throw in would take place inside a minute. Same too for corners. Funny, not much moral outrage. Instead, panels of ex players nudging and winking and laughing how isn’t it all a good fun? What harm can it cause?
I come back to my point yesterday. If English cricket doesn’t want to play Pakistan then don’t. Have the guts to turn down the tv contracts. But here is the rub. We are running out of teams to offer a match to. WI test team is in a mess. Sri Lanka, as we have seen is not a patch of their former selves. SA is moving rapidly downhill. Not too many left to offer a competitive series against. Never mind, we can play the Aussies again, and again, and again. It’s what the establishment wants anyway.
Apt piece – KP’s amnesia about SKW’s various travails is noteworthy.
Your quote “However, what is perturbing me is the option being espoused pretty openly by ex and current players. You should show your contempt in the flesh, by booing him.” – which ex and current players have you heard suggesting booing Amir ?
OK. I was spun this quote a little differently, and I should know better, but Harmison was my main one…
Unfortunately the link the quote was on jammed up my computer, but it was saying he would be getting grief from the fans and should expect it, if not deserve it. Something like that. Cook has also said he might well get abuse…. Swann was doing his angry man act. There are a number stoking fires. They aren’t exactly airing disapproval of the prospect but that isn’t the same as encouraging it.
But I may have slightly over reached…. (and that has now been reflected in an update)
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Doesn’t matter if it’s ex players or the media. They are all stoking the fires. It won’t end well, and If it all goes off the media will get their story.
They seem to want Pakistan not to pick him. I think that is where their anger really lies. Old scores being settled. I maintain some would rather we don’t play Pakistan at all. I seem to remember SA once telling us about a player who we should not pick. Didn’t end well.
I’m fully in agreement with your sentiments on Amir.
Pietersen’s DT article was majorly disappointing. He’s shown himself quite an astute thinker in most of his writing but he was off the mark here. What he (and all the life-ban advocates) miss is that extremely draconian punishments make convictions less likely. The best deterrent is being caught – but anyone facing a life-ban is likely to get the benefit of the doubt unless the evidence is absolutely categorical. It provides the emotional satisfaction of looking tough without the inconvenience of actually having to do very much. Pietersen also seems to assume that everyone had as good an education in these matters as he did playing for a wealthy team. That should be the case now – but I doubt it was then.
Of course some wags have been using this as fuel for their never-ending loathing. Nobody ever said that Pietersen was the ideal candidate for ICC President. He’s not a supreme voice on complex moral and legal issues, just a very good batsman. Comments like “I thought KP approved of second chances” imply there is some sort of equivalence between Amir and Pietersen. What was Pietersen’s criminality again? But then some are quite happy to imply Pietersen was some sort of criminal – and probably have convinced themselves that he was.
Unfashionably, I think the authorities got the punishments for the spot-fixing spot-on. Butt and Asif received more severe bans because of their positions of responsibility and prior offences respectively. Amir, as a young first-time offender (not because of his talent), rightly was treated more leniently. The fact it was spot-fixing and not match-fixing also made a difference. I’m not conflicted about this one at all – but I would be if it was match-fixing.
There’s also the issue that a blue-collar criminal goes to prison and some of the game’s white-collar criminals continue to sit in boardrooms and occupy positions of power. Some of their actions involve actual criminality – others have used their positions to write the laws so that what they’ve done is only disgustingly immoral rather than technically illegal. Those who’ve mounted the loftiest steeds about Amir seem incredibly relaxed about them. Funny that.
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Also we must remember he was only 17, so a seven year ban still makes him only 24 now. If he was 24 when he committed the offence he would now be 31. Would they pick a 31 year old who had played no test cricket for 7 years? Doubtful.
Good point about the White collar criminals sitting on cricket boards, and the lack of any concern by the media.
He was 18, not 17 at the time of offence.
Clive, I have absolutely no problem with people who wanted life bans. It’s just that justice has now been delivered. Are the media going to be allowed to hound out someone else they don’t like? A media which has a terrible record on integrity and honesty?
17/18? The point remains the same. Had he been 24/25 the 7 year ban would In effect have been a life ban.
Simon, my disappointment in Pietersen’s intervention on Amir is his total lack of empathy with a cricketer that clearly splits opinion, and who is being hounded, it seems in unison, by a press that appears to be rather less concerned with natural justice than pursuing one agenda or another. Sound familiar KP? While there is no equivalence in causality between the two, Pietersen, more than anyone, should recognise whether or not a bloke is being given a fair break. Every gripe and moan KP ever made about an antagonistic press lost value the moment he decided to join the pack in pursuit of a fresh victim.
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Who could ever have imagined that the combined mass of the English cricket media would share the same moral outlook as KP.
I’m sure they wil be delighted with their new friend.
It is interesting that the great and good Graham Swann who hss never done anything illegal is so harsh on Amir. I think that Dmitri’s stance is a more appropriate one, expecially when you consider the facts in the case…such as Amir’s origins and ingluences. The thing about Swann is that everytime he opens his mouth, respect for him decreases.
The cat was driving, officer….
Is anyome offering odds on 3 king pairs for Chef?
Excellent article and responses. Sorry to repeat myself but I have avoided the press for years because I am not interested in what they print, much of which is not honest. Similarly, I’m regularly here because the content is honest and informative.
Should be in block capitals that Amir was guilty of spot fixing not match fixing. If there were a moral high ground here, I’d suggest that the law and our expensive justice system has more important purpose than to look after the betting industry – an industry that has caused more harm to ordinary, if foolish people than any fast bowler. Hence Ray Winston growling on TV that people should “bet responsibly”.
Hope you see some brilliant cricket on Saturday Dmitri. If Amir gets our record breaking plodder out early, I shall chuckle but then I always enjoy irony.
I am ambivalent, even in the face of Dmitri’s eloquence.
I don’t think Amir should have been allowed back — he was no abused child but an adult and this was not a one-time incident: his phone was full of calls from bookies and their agents, the reason given by Justice Cooke for rejecting Amir’s plea of mitigation. He didn’t confess all to the court but went on protesting his innocence for months afterwards, and never came clean about the extent of his illicit contacts. I’m all for second chances and rehabilitation rather than punishment, but only when guilt has been fully confessed and the criminal shows remorse.
Having said all that, I don’t see any reason to hold Amir himself responsible for the decision on his readmission. It was wrong, for all the reasons above, but it was nothing to do with him, and now it has happened, there is no point in going on about it. With everything that has happened to Pakistan this century, they maybe deserve a bit of special treatment…
Okay, I admit it, most of all I am hoping that Amir will have ***k on toast. The England captain has had the most outrageous luck throughout his career and has proved himself the master of average bowling, but whenever he’s come up against something a bit special, he’s failed. I’m so fed up with his mediocrity being made to look good by toothless attacks. I’m so fed up with seeing England beat up cash-strapped countries with a fraction of their resources. Let’s see a bit of magic, even if the morality of it is a bit dubious. Frankly, there’s so much immorality in cricket at the moment, a bit more won’t make a lot of difference.
As a “South African born” that lived in Austria for decades, married to a Romanian, and having worked internationally in some very dodgy countries, my moral spectrum of simplistic good and bad, us and them, black and white, has become very blurred.
The immoral interests driving governments in “doing the right thing” and the propoganda in the controlled MSM to sell it to us has become shockingly obvious and unsubttle.
The double standards this debates highlights are sickening.
Thank you for a great article on this very depressing matter. Thank you for some grea comments.
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A wonderful and well considered piece that puts the MSM and the vox-pop ex (and current) cricketers to shame… this will only end in their tears of denial and outrage and ours of laughter at them all
The universally loved and respected captain who single-handedly dragged his team back from the edge of oblivion. And Misbah. And a plastic zebra.
Thanks Dmitri. A great piece. Jonathan Liew also takes a different view to most as Simon highlighted. I just wanted to add a quote from an earlier article by Michael Atherton which Peter Oborne used in his book. Atherton wrote, ‘I thank God that I did not, at seventeen years of age, find myself in the kind of dressing room that Amir walked into.
In my 25 years of watching international cricket, I cannot think of a story that has sickened me more’