By: Arunav Bhattacharjya* |
Indian cricket has seen its fair share of ebb and flows over the years. Despite the fact that India has been a global hub for a sport like cricket, the frenzied cricketing nation is yet to have a legislation on match-fixing, gambling and illegal betting to root out the practice of corruption within the ecosystem of the sport. In the year 2019, Sri Lanka became the first leading cricketing nation to criminalize match-fixing after its Parliament passed the Prevention of Offences Relating to Sports Bill. The legislation designated match-fixing as a criminal offence provided with a punishment which also includes a 10-year prison sentence. The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) aided the Sri Lanka government in preparing the draft of the legislation in the midst of the broad investigations carried out which found several former Sri Lankan cricketers including former captain Sanath Jayasuriya of being guilty of breaching the corruption code. If things go as planned, India will be hosting two marquee events within a span of three years - the ICC 2021 T20 World Cup which will be followed by the ICC ODI World Cup in 2023. Steve Richardson, Coordinator of Investigations, ICC Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has urged the Indian government to reckon creating a strict legislation on match-fixing for cricket as Sri Lanka has done. He claimed that legislation against match fixing would dissuade the corruptors involved, who are currently roaming about free. In the absence of such a legislative framework in the country, the Indian Police has been imposed with a limitation in tracking down the corruptors. Richardson from his earlier statements went to point out that both betting and corruption should been seen as separate and not as two sides of the same coin simply as in many countries betting has been deemed as a legal activity.
CORRUPTION IN IPL: THE MUDGAL AND THE LODHA COMMITTEE
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has always been a soft target for match fixers with each passing season due to the fact that the players can easily earn some quick money to fix the game to go for a certain result. In the 2013 edition of the IPL, S.Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajeet Chandila were all arrested by a special cell of the Delhi Police knowing that they were being contacted by bookies and allegations of match-fixing. Probing further upon this case, the BCCI formulated a committee to inquire into the same and the committee was tasked with the submission of its report within 30 days-time. Subsequently, when the report was submitted, all the aforesaid players were found guilty and they were thus recommended to be taken action against by the Disciplinary Committee of BCCI. In relation to the same case, the Mumbai Police Crime Branch arrested some bookies who were found to be involved and further links were disclosed of involvement of Gurunath Meiyappan, the then CEO of Chennai Super Kings franchise and Raj Kundra, the owner of Rajasthan Royals. The 2013 match fixing scandal rocked the entire nation and put a blot on the nation’s superiority in the game, the scandal involved two of the financial giants in the format, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were both suspended for two years and the entire episode is a testament to the fact for the need of strict and effective legislation on match fixing.
Upon further investigation, these involvements of the accused parties were proven beyond a reasonable doubt and as a consequence, both the franchises were suspended for 2 years. In this coarse of time, the Honourable Supreme Court constituted the Mudgal Committee under the aegis of Justice Mukul Mudgal. The committee in its report gave out several recommendations in relation to match fixing and restrictions on players, and also revealed the nexus between match-fixing and bookies. Recommendations on restrictions on players included restriction of disclosure of information by the players, access to the players, supervision of the players as well as of the support staff of the respective team. Later, the Lodha Committee in furtherance to the earlier recommendations of the Mudgal Committee, recommended several directives which include the complete absence of conflict of interest in the Board and the working of the Board would be carried on by a committee of administrators. These steps proved to send a stern message to the players, bookies and people in the management to refrain from indulging in illegal activities such as match-fixing.
CURRENT LEGAL FRAMEWORK IN INDIA: CALL FOR CRIMINALIZATION
Call for criminalizing match-fixing in India has been a growing demand for a long time now, the lack of adherence of which has meant that the hands of authorities are tied when it comes to the investigation of corruption within the sport. The Indian government in the year 2013 presented a draft bill on the issue of prevention of sporting fraud, but it was not properly followed and acted on afterwards and in the end, it was shelved. The draft bill covered the definition of what is a sporting fraud, who is a perpetrator, and also prescribed the punishment for the offences- which can extend up to five years of imprisonment, and an imposition of a fine of INR 10 lakh or five times the benefit received from the sporting fraud. Also in the year 2016, the Lodha Committee Report, which outlined the framework, paving the way for structural reforms in the BCCI, advised the Supreme Court on the matter that the Law Commission of India (LCI) should seriously look into criminalizing match-fixing in sports irrespective of cricket. Two years later, the Law Commission of India agreed to the suggestion that match-fixing of any kind in sport, which also includes cricket, should be treated as a criminal offence carrying a significant amount of punishment. Expressing betting and gambling as two sides of the same coin, the Law Commission of India further recommended to the Indian government that it should also consider imposing regulations on betting and gambling activities as against imposition of a complete prohibition on it.
The Chairman of the Law Commission in 2018, Justice B.S.Chauhan suggested that the issue of match-fixing would be treated as an offence and those found guilty would be dealing with severe punishments which may also include jail terms. The need for such stricter rules and regulations against match fixing has been felt for way too long, and particularly since the former captain of India, Md. Azharuddin match-fixing scandal came to limelight. 2001 was seen as a year of chaos and disorder in the cricketing corridors of India which went on to change the game in the country forever. In the month of April 2001, the news of that the Indian skipper, Md. Azharuddin along with fellow-mates Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia, and Nikhil Chopra was being involved in match-fixing, an allegation which was made against Hansie Cronje, former South African captain, for having contacts with bookies and bettors, spread like a wildfire across the cricketing guild and sent shock-waves around the cricketing world. During this entire debacle, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was entrusted with setting up a report on match-fixing in which the CBI tried to define the term match-fixing, but this definition espoused by the CBI was restricted only to the players and excluded the supporting staff of the team. It has to be mentioned that there are no specific provisions of sections to deal with such cases in the IPC or any other legislation.
In many cases, situations like this are booked u/s 415 of the Indian Penal Code which explicitly states about cheating. It is dealt under this provision because the players on the field are expected to be responsible enough towards the general public and the large section of Indian fans so as to share a relationship of trust. When a player is alleged to be involved in a match-fixing scenario and intentionally underplays to change the outcome of the game, there is a breach of trust between the player and the fans at large. Therefore, they are charged by the provisions in this particulars section, but the real question that arises is how to prove this as an offence and carry out the process of investigation to collect evidence. In the case of Ahmed v. State of Rajasthan (1967 Cri LJ 1053(Raj.), the court held that an act becomes 'dishonest' only when there is an intention of the person, irrespective of what the result maybe. Similarly, in cases of match-fixing, there lies the element of 'dishonest concealment of fact' and it causes a wrongful loss or wrongful gain to someone. When a player is involved in active concealment of the fact of receiving money from a bookie, it can be seen as 'dishonest concealment of fact'. which cause wrongful loss to the spectators of the match.
The threat of match-fixing that has haunted Indian cricket fans and administrators for a long time. The recent statement by Richardson has kick-started the debate on criminalizing match-fixing in India as the lack of concrete legislation that treats match-fixing as an offence is the biggest challenge that lies ahead. In usual circumstances, the burden of proof that lies is far higher in criminal cases, which can't be achieved in the cases of match-fixing unless it is treated as a criminal offence. So it becomes sticky to carry out an investigation in match-fixing cases under this particular section. To conclude the statement, there are no such particular laws in India till date which explicitly deals with the criminalization of match-fixing which leads to restriction of the authorities to execute rigorous actions against the offenders found guilty. A strong mechanism is the need of the hour in order to punish the people involved. Code of Conduct and ethics must apply to all sporting associations in the country. The players and officials involved should duly be made aware of the repercussions of such involvement. Without the moral consciousness of the players and a stringent law into motion, this challenge has a long road ahead.
Indian cricket has been a witness to match-fixing incidents as well, be it the infamous scandal that rocked the nation after Hansie Cronje’s confession or the 2013 Indian Premier League scandal. Given such history, legislation against match-fixing will be seen as a game-changer and the most efficacious instrument to tackle any such incidents in the near future.
* The author is a student at National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.