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.