Sports Integrity Initiative: Gerard Elias QC – The UK needs a specific law to combat match-fixing

Gerard Elias QC’s role as Chairman of the Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is one that has seen him oversee issues that have varied from players’ spitting on the pitch through to racism allegations and corruption of the sport. Appointed as the CDC’s chairman in 1996, it’s a role he’s held for almost twenty years; even he concedes that such a term is too long. Appointed a QC in 1984, Elias is also a former Chairman of Glamorgan County Cricket Club and has chaired Disciplinary Tribunals for many other sports including the Welsh Rugby Union.

It is a long and distinguished career but one that hasn’t come without its challenges; disciplinary committees aren’t places to make friends. Various counties have expressed their dissatisfaction over the years at the process and resulting punishment meted out to their players, and there have been allegations of a lack of clarity and consistency. Last year Yorkshire was unhappy with the extended ban for its captain, Andrew Gale, after the ECB had earlier implied – but did not explicitly state – that Gale had been cleared of using racist language.

Match-fixing sentences: a fine balance

Determining sentencing for offences is a tricky path to navigate especially in a sport where precedents aren’t always in place; in many instances CDC panels under Elias have had to set such precedents. One such case arose when professional cricketers Danish Kaneria, a former Pakistan spinner, and Mervyn Westfield were convicted of spot-fixing in 2012. An ECB CDC Panel chaired by Elias was convened to consider the appropriate sanctions, eventually banning Kaneria for life from playing cricket in England and Wales and Westfield for five years, including a two-year suspension period. Westfield was considered to have been targeted and pressurised by his senior team-mate Kaneria and Westfield was given ‘significant credit’ by the CDC for pleading guilty at the first opportunity.

“I don’t think that there was any inconsistency with regard to the sentences,” says Elias. “The sentence was slightly modified on appeal for Westfield, which I have no difficulty with because he was heavily involved with the PCA [Professional Cricketers Association] and spreading the message against match-fixing and so on and so forth. The message however has to be clear. If anybody, young or old, is going to get tempted by match-fixing, the penalties are going to be draconian.”

“That’s the first message that I’d like everybody to be aware of. That’s part of the education. But I do think that any panel or body that’s looking at these cases has to bear in mind the pressures which especially youngsters might be put under both financially and in terms of team selection and so on – which obviously didn’t apply to Kaneria but very much applied to Westfield.”

Elias emphasises that sentencing is about striking a balance, “It’s not an easy strike to balance, but it shouldn’t be struck at the risk of watering down the message to all players: if you get involved in match-fixing at any time there is going to be a heavy sanction.”

More recently, the three Pakistani internationals Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and Salman Butt were convicted for their roles in spot-fixing during the England v Pakistan Lord’s Test in August 2010. It was a case in which Elias wasn’t involved, but in which Amir, just 18 at the time of the incident, was banned from cricket for five years by an independent panel set up by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Amir was allowed to return to domestic club cricket in advance of his five-year international ban due to pleading guilty from the beginning, showing genuine remorse, and to his status as a young cricketer bullied by his captain and senior colleagues. In contrast, Butt, who at the time had been Pakistani captain, denied all involvement and continued to plead his innocence. It was only a few months ago that for the first time Butt admitted his role in the spot-fixing scandal, expressing “complete regret and a willingness to cooperate totally with the ICC.” Butt had been given a five-year initial ban by the tribunal to be followed by a five-year suspended sentence on condition that he participated in programmes of public education and rehabilitation under the auspices of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Elias takes a dim view of Butt’s change of heart, “If there is real remorse and one endeavours to put things right in every way you can, then that should be reflected in a review of the position perhaps three years, five years down the line, but if it’s obviously a fabricated sting for your own benefit and not a real remorse, then I have little sympathy.” Is that why suspended sentences are there in the first place – in order to allow for that cooperation?

“Absolutely.”

Education, education, education

During an address to a recent conference held by Sports Resolutions, a dispute resolution service for sport in the UK, Elias emphasised the importance of education of players to combat match-fixing. “Education probably is the most important building block,” he says. “But it depends a bit what you mean by education. Simply saying don’t get involved in match-fixing is really no message. The instruction and education needs to be comprehensive. People need to understand what they’re doing in what circumstances – if you get a telephone call in the middle of the night, the different ways that you can be approached, the sanctions etc. We have to be clear about it.”

Cricket, along with the likes of snooker and football, is one of the most highly targeted sports for match-fixing, and in particular spot-fixing, because it’s so easy to manipulate. The ECB therefore has one of the most expansive programmes against it. “I have to say that when the spectre of match-fixing or spot-fixing first flirted with cricket, I thought that the ECB were reacting by spending a lot of money on it. I wondered at the time about the wisdom of that. But I now think that it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

One law, one body, one name

The ECB may certainly be ploughing a lot of resources into combating match-fixing, but the problem doesn’t affect cricket alone. Does the government spend enough on the prevention of match-fixing? “I don’t want to be too critical of the government. But I do believe that it is very important that we have a criminal offence of match-fixing.” Currently in the UK, betting related match-fixing cases are punished under the offence of cheating at gambling.

Elias argues that a specific law would not be difficult to draft and would clarify the situation when dealing with overseas authorities (as is often the case). It could also incorporate measures against emerging offences such as court-siding, and those players vulnerable to exposure would be clear on the offence they were committing. Effectively therefore, having a named deterrent is key?

“Exactly. Certainly it’s easier for players to understand, because once you get into ‘taking money under false pretences’, as is the current offence, things are not so easy for people to understand. Match-fixing people can understand. Spot-fixing people can understand. Players would understand a named offence instead of falling under the auspices of the Gambling Act and other such legislation.”

Alongside a common match-fixing law to cover all sports in the UK, Elias is a proponent of having a single body to combat match-fixing, with one code, one agency and public/private co-operation – a match-fixing equivalent, if you like, to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

“I don’t think a body like that would be hugely expensive to set up. We would all be under the same umbrella, living by the same rules, sharing our expertise and it would all be very useful then to have this common law offence as it were sitting on top of all of that. At least if we could do it within the UK to start.”

It’s that last line that poses the biggest threat to the fight against match-fixing – with betting conducted almost exclusively online, so much of the problem now stems from abroad. “I think cricket and the major sports governing bodies have a very good relationship with the betting industry in the UK. The issue is unregulated markets abroad,” explains Elias. “I asked a Pakistani board member recently when he thought the likes of England would play again in Pakistan (they haven’t played in Pakistan since 2005). I was surprised by his answers. ‘Firstly,’ he said, ‘tell me when the Taliban will be overcome.’ But secondly he said that, as in India, ‘Pakistan had a growing betting problem.’ He’s right. Betting on the sub-continent is not regulated and cannot be regulated because it’s illegal. It will remain illegal due to religious factors; how can you incorporate something that is not acceptable either religiously or legally?”

Elias says that Indian board members have told him that the possibility of legalising gambling is on the cards, it’s just a matter of time. For Elias, the next logical step would be for the UK to introduce a new law. He’s pleased with the ECB’s approach and the resources it devotes. It’s the government that needs to take the next step. When asked whether the ECB should do more to share information and expertise with other countries and boards, there is a long pause. “I can’t speak for the ECB but the question then is whether there is an element of distrust. Not only by the ECB but about the ECB from other nations. The honest answer is that perhaps there is. We’ve shared information with the likes of Australia, but when I oversaw the Kaneria/Westfield panel we had a request from the Pakistan board to have an observer present at the hearing.” Was the observer present to ensure that what the CDC were doing was impartial? Was there an element of distrust? On that, Elias remains silent.

And what of the man himself – is Elias a betting man? “No. Not at all. I mean, I wouldn’t say that I’ve never placed a bet but I don’t think that I’ve placed a bet in perhaps twenty years. I think that my last bet was on whether Glamorgan would win the Gillette Cup final. Ten pounds! I think that they lost in the semi-final…”

• This article was originally published in the Sports Integrity Initiative internet journal on 16 July 2015. To access the original, please click here.

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