Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

It is probably nobody's fault but my own that I was born and brought up in a world of gentle innocence, but, England's Euro 2000 victory against Germany notwithstanding, it has been a terrible time for sport. I spent much of last week reeling from the shock of the confession of the former South African cricket captain, Hansie Cronje, that he accepted large sums of money to throw matches and that, even worse, he tried to persuade his team mates to join the conspiracy. Cronje's disclosures - and no one believes we've yet heard the full story - have not only dealt a body blow to the pride and passion of South African sport, but have also tarnished the image of a glorious and gentlemanly pursuit, perhaps for ever. I say this for several reasons. It is clear, for example, that some officials - and South Africa's Dr Ali Bacher has confessed as much - were aware of allegations of corruption in the game for many years. Nothing was done. And listening to other officials and commentators, the view seems to be that, with a modicum of spin and a healthy dose of old-fashioned complacency, cricket will somehow survive. I am not too sure. Why should people pay good money to watch Test matches, the results of which are predetermined by bookmakers somewhere on the Indian subcontinent? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

I am relieved that my compatriot, the brilliant writer C.L.R. James, is no longer with us. The news of what has happened to his beloved cricket would have been too much for him. James wrote Beyond a Boundary, one of the finest cricket books ever. In it he describes a visit to America in the 1950s when, as he says, `Day after day there appeared in the press authenticated reports that university basketball teams had sold out games or played for results arranged beforehand, in return for money from bookmakers.' He says that, although he was shocked, he didn't immediately challenge his American hosts for fear of making the mistake `that so many otherwise intelligent Europeans make of trying to fit that country into European standards'. He couldn't hold his tongue for ever, though. This is what he wrote:

But this was too much - how could these young men behave in that way? Before I could choose my words I found myself saying that adults in Trinidad or in Britain, in the world of business or private life, could or would do anything, more or less. But in the world of sport, certainly in cricket, despite the tricks teams played upon one another, I had never heard of any such thing and did not believe it was possible.

What would James have thought, I wonder, if he knew that a cricketer representing not his school or university, but his country, was guilty of taking money to throw games?

I fear that those who administer our football have been complacent for far too long, and in the wake of the brutish behaviour of England fans in Europe before and during Euro 2000 the day of total isolation for our national team might not be very far off. Whenever these riots occur in the cities of other countries, I ask myself a simple question. Why should any self-respecting municipal authority in Europe ever take the risk of allowing England to play football in their city only to have its public squares and bars defiled and wrecked by mindless louts hiding their deep-seated criminality behind the mask of support for the England team? …

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