Yesterday the International Cricket Council (ICC) confirmed that sanctions against Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt will expire at midnight on 1 September 2015. The ICC announced that the two cricketers, who were convicted alongside their Pakistani team-mate Mohammad Amir for their roles in spot-fixing during the England vs. Pakistan Lord’s Test in August 2010, would be eligible to return to competitive cricket after ‘fulfilling the specific conditions’ laid down by the independent Anti-Corruption Tribunal in February 2011.
Mohammad Amir has already returned to domestic cricket after changes to the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Code allowed him to return to play with the approval of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). All three cricketers will be eligible to return to international cricket on the same date.
In 2011 the independent tribunal, chaired by Michael Beloff QC, decided that Butt, Asif and Amir had breached the ICC Anti Corruption Code and banned all three players from all forms of cricket for five years. The ban was backdated to commence on 2 September 2010, when the spot-fixing occurred. Butt, which the ICC said had orchestrated the plot to deliberately bowl no-balls, was also handed a further five-year suspended sentence, while Asif was handed a further two-year suspended sentence. The suspended sentences handed to both Butt and Asif were done so on condition that they commit ‘no further breach of the code’ and that they participate, ‘starting as soon as possible, in programmes of public education and rehabilitation under the auspices of the PCB is here warranted.’ Butt and Asif lost appeals against their ICC bans at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in 2013. Amir, the young fast bowler, chose not to appeal to the CAS.
In November 2011, Butt and Asif were also found guilty in a criminal trial at Southwark Crown Court in England of conspiracy to cheat at gambling and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments. Amir, unlike the other two cricketers, admitted the charges prior to the trial and submitted a guilty plea. After admitting the charges, Amir spent three months in a Dorset Young Offenders Institution and was released in February 2012, half way through his six-month sentence. Butt was handed a jail term of 30 months and Asif one year. Mazhar Majeed, a cricket agent and bookmaker convicted in the conspiracy who, like Amir, had entered a guilty plea, was jailed for two years and eight months.
In November 2014, the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) revised the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Code. Article 6.8 allows the ACSU Chairman to permit a banned player to return to domestic cricket, with the prior approval of his national association. In January this year, the PCB announced that it would support Mohammad Amir in his bid to return to domestic cricket. The ACSU promptly allowed Amir to return to domestic club cricket in advance of his five-year international suspension.
In a statement, the ACSU said that they were ‘satisfied that Amir had cooperated with the ACSU by fully disclosing his part in the matters that led to his disqualification, admitting his guilt, showing remorse and cooperating with the Unit’s ongoing investigations and by recording messages for the ACSU education sessions.’
The PCB remained unsupportive of Butt due to his reluctance to accept his conviction or cooperate with the PCB. However in February earlier this year, over four and a half years since the start of Butt’s ban, local media reported that Butt had for the first time admitted his role in the spot-fixing, expressing a ‘complete regret and a willingness to cooperate totally with the ICC’. In April, Butt gave his first television interview with ITV since being released from jail for spot-fixing, expressing his remorse for his actions and his keenness for others to learn from his fall from grace. After Butt’s interview, the Sports Integrity Initiative reported that the PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan had said that Butt had appeared to have ‘learnt his lesson’ and signalled that the PCB would support Butt in his appeal to have his five-year suspended sentence reviewed by the ICC’s ACSU.
Butt then signed a written statement specifically confessing to spot-fixing. In the statement, which was published by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Butt admitted that he was ‘guilty of breaching the International Cricket Council (ICC) Anti-Corruption Code in the manner found by the Anti-Corruption Tribunal’ and admitted specifically to being a ‘party to the bowling of two deliberate no balls in the Lord’s test match.’
Both Butt and Asif have now been deemed to have acted in accordance with ICC-mandated conditions of their suspended sentences. Responses to this announcement have been mixed. Former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif reportedly said that he would ‘not support’ the trio’s comeback to international cricket, arguing that they would ‘replace someone who might not be as talented as them but has done nothing ethnically or morally wrong and had not indulged in corruption.’ On the other hand, another former Pakistan captain, Mohammad Yousuf, told local media that ‘they did something wrong and bad and they were punished for it. Other players have been allowed back after being guilty of corruption and serving bans so why not these three?’