Sadly match fixing is prevalent in many sports, including the genteel game of cricket, as the latest affair concerning the match between England and Pakistan during the Fourth Test has shown - exposed by the 'News of the World', a UK Sunday newspaper. It is alleged that 'no balls' were deliberately bowled to order so that bets could be placed and won on that outcome. The bowlers concerned had been paid - again, it is alleged - several thousand pounds to bowl 'no balls' at agreed points in the play.
But, of course, bowling a 'no ball' per se is not against the laws of cricket. 'No balls' happen naturally from time to time during the course of a game, even with experienced bowlers when the bowler miss-judges his run up. So that event alone is not illegal. What is illegal is where a 'no ball' is bowled deliberately and to order at a pre-arranged moment as appears to have happened in this particular case.
Certainly match fixing (perhaps, in the present case, it is more accurate to use the term 'spot fixing'), where someone deliberately affects the outcome of a game by not playing naturally and according to its rules, is illegal under the laws of cricket. Where proved, the cricketing authorities may impose penalties under their disciplinary procedures, which all professional cricketers are required to accept. Sanctions include fines and, in serious cases, bans ranging from several games to life. Hanse Cronje, the late South African cricketer, suffered a life-time ban ten years ago for match fixing. But, as with any 'offence', establishing guilt is a question of proof. Cronje's case was straight-forward only because he confessed. More recently, there were allegations of match fixing after the surprise defeat of Pakistan in the 2007 Cricket World Cup by Ireland, followed the next day by the sudden death of the Pakistan head coach, Bob Woolmer.
Whether, the Pakistani bowlers alleged to be involved in the present affair will, like Cronje, admit anything is perhaps unlikely. But it will all depend on what is uncovered in the course of the investigations, which are underway.
Apart from sporting sanctions, is match fixing a criminal offence punishable under the Criminal Law? Would it constitute fraud? The UK Fraud Act 2006 added the offence of fraud to the list of criminal offences covered by the UK Gambling Act 2005, under which a prosecution can be brought, especially against those beyond the reach of the sporting authorities. If the police feel they have enough evidence, players and anyone else deemed to be involved in the allegations can be charged with fraud. The allegation that the person who took the alleged illegal bets suffered loss, where there is actual or imputed knowledge, does not change anything so far as the criminal responsibility is concerned - two wrongs do not make a right! …