x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Gambling kingpins are ruthless

There are many people who believe both Cronje and Woolmer were victims of the criminal syndicates that command illegal betting on cricket.

Hansie Cronje, the former South Africa cricket captain, died in a plane crash in 2002.

Bob Woolmer, the former Pakistan coach, died in his hotel room in Jamaica during the 2007 World Cup.

There are many people who believe both men were victims of the criminal syndicates that command illegal betting on cricket.

Clive Rice, another former South Africa captain, is one of them. Last month, he called for fresh investigations into the two deaths.

"I am convinced [Cronje's] death wasn't an accident," he said, claiming the plane's equipment was tampered with on the orders of a crime syndicate.

Rice also suspects foul play in Woolmer's death.

"These mafia betting syndicates do not stop at anything and they do not care who gets in their way," he said. "People have been murdered because of it in the past, and it could happen again unless officials do something."

The Jamaica police initially treated Woolmer's death as homicide, then said he died of natural causes. His body was found in his Kingston hotel room the day after Pakistan were knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland, and some people believe he was killed because he was about to blow the whistle on the team's involvement in match-fixing.

Cronje had been banned from cricket for match-fixing in 2000, and he implicated others during the hearing process. Some people believe he was killed in reprisal, or because he was threatening to reveal more.

Threats against players were detailed by Lord Condon, the former chief of the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, in his 2001 report on corruption in cricket.

"The most disturbing aspect of the tolerance of corruption is the fear that some people have expressed for their personal safety, or the safety of their family," the report said.

"My unit has met people who have made allegations about threats to their life as a result of exposing cricket corruption and I have met a number of people who were, in my opinion, genuinely frightened of the consequences if it became known they were co-operating with the Anti Corruption Unit."

More recently, Sarfaraz Nawaz, a former Pakistan bowler, and Veena Malik, an actress and a former girlfriend of Mohammad Asif, the suspended Pakistan fast bowler, claimed they received death threats after they went public with match-fixing allegations.

Malik told anti-corruption officials that she received an e-mail saying, "Don't talk to the media, keep your mouth shut. I'll kill you, watch what I do."

Geoff Lawson, the former Pakistan coach, said he saw players being forced into corruption because of "extortion, threats and the well-being of their own family members" during his time with the team.

"It would not surprise me if illegal bookmakers have told players that if they do not perform X and Y, their families will be kidnapped or harmed," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"In Pakistan, there's lots of extortion so it's not necessarily about money. It could be 'Your career's over if you don't do X, Y and Z'. It's a whole myriad of factors."

Lawson said he witnessed the results of one threat first-hand.

"I went to [the captain's] room and he was standing there with a very sombre-looking selector," Lawson said. "This selector said: 'We must pick [the player], I have been told that if he is not in the team tomorrow, my daughter will be kidnapped and I will not see her again.'

"At first, we both [Lawson and the captain] laughed, but then we realised he was being serious. Our chairman then called the president, Pervez Musharraf, who in turn phoned the people behind the threats and said they had better reconsider or else. The next day we heard the matter had been resolved."

Mudassar Nazar, a former Pakistan opener, confirmed such episodes are normal in Pakistan.

"People come with Kalashnikovs [rifles] to the selection meetings," he said. "You are actually threatened and this is not a lie.

"So when I say there are pressures in Pakistan, when there is a problem in selections, it isn't always the selection committee [to blame]. It is so difficult to select the Lahore and Karachi teams, so difficult that it's unbelievable.

"It's easy for me to say, 'clean up your act', but in reality, it's very difficult . If I was ever asked to become a selector, I would never accept it because I know what goes on.

"You've got your kids at home, your family to look after and there are, at times, some nasty people out there. And they don't take no for an answer."