ECB to offer amnesty to players to fix corruption

Mervyn Westfield, 23, is the first player to admit to a corruption charge in a county match AFP

London: Jan 13, 2012

English cricket chiefs have offered an amnesty to players to report past match-fixing approaches after former Essex bowler Mervyn Westfield pleaded guilty to spot-fixing at the Old Bailey.

Westfield, 23, the first player to admit to a corruption charge in a county match, entered a guilty plea to charges of accepting or obtaining a corrupt payment to bowl in a way that would allow the scoring of runs.

He received 6,000 ($9,199) to bowl so that 12 runs would be scored in the first over of a match against Durham in September 2009, although in fact only 10 were scored.

A separate charge of assisting another person to cheat at gambling was ordered to lie on file.

Westfield, who will be sentenced on February 10, was told by Judge Anthony Morris on Thursday: “It’s open to the court in this case to pass an immediate custodial sentence.”

Morris added the name of the other party involved in the deal would be known to cricket fans, but it was not revealed in court.

An international cricketer was arrested alongside Westfield but later released without charge.

It is already an offence under England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) regulations for players to fail to report approaches related to corrupt activities.

But the governing body, at a meeting Thursday, established a “window” until April 30 whereby players can report previous approaches without the threat of ECB punishment.

Chris Watts, information manager to the ECB’s Anti-Corruption Commission for Education, Standards and Security (ACCESS), said: “Information is critical in addressing the threat posed by corruption in sport.

“Individuals may not have thought these approaches were worthy of reporting at the time and, prior to the decision of the board, may have been concerned that the fact that they did not report such activity may have put them at risk of disciplinary action.”

Westfield’s admission of guilt took place against the backdrop of Pakistan players Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer being jailed in Britain last year for their role in an entirely separate ‘spot-fixing’ scandal in a 2010 Test match against England.

Huge sums are bet on cricket matches, especially in the Indian sub-continent — the sport’s financial powerhouse but an area where gambling on cricket is generally illegal — because of the way incidents in matches, even more than results, can be manipulated.

Following Westfield’s admission of guilt, ex-England captain Nasser Hussain urged for him to be given a role in educating the next generation of players about the dangers of corruption.

Meanwhile Ronnie Irani, Westfield’s skipper when he made his Essex debut, lamented the loss of an “exceptional talent”.

“(The ECB should) use him, take him around to counties, do a video with him, use him as an example for future generations of cricketers that if you do get a call in your room saying ‘bowl a bad over and we will give you 6,000’, this is what happens to you,” former Essex batsman Hussain told Sky Sports.

Westfield was released by Essex in 2010 “on cricketing grounds,” but Irani, speaking to the BBC, emphasised his ability by saying: “I saw this kid when he was 15, he played for me as captain when he was a 17-year-old boy and he was an exceptional talent.

“You thought ‘wow, this boy is going places’.”

Fears have been expressed that lower-profile domestic cricket may be more vulnerable to fixing than international matches.

But the chief executive of England’s Professional Cricketers Association, Angus Porter, who insisted things had moved on “quite a long way” since the time of Westfield’s offences, said the key issue was whether a match, whatever its standard, was being broadcast in Asia as most cricket gambling took place on televised games.

“International cricket certainly is a risk and I think domestic cricket is also a risk because some games are televised on the Indian sub-continent so I suppose those specific matches are the ones we need to worry about.” (AFP)