“The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common – instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts which needs altering”.
Doctor Who, played by Tom Baker in “The Face of Evil” (1977)
Mohammed Asif's reported request for asylum in England throws the role of players allegedly involved in spot-fixing into stark contrast. Gone are the callow days of cricket, farewell to “innocent until proven guilty”. No doubt Asif's suddenly found himself in more trouble than he could have ever imagined but an plea for safety of this sort really gives one an idea of what trouble these potentially misguided and undoubtedly unfortunate men will face at home.
When the safety of players is threatened due to on-field performance – or lack thereof – the first name mentioned is usually Andrés Escobar, the Colombian who was shot dead in 1994 after his own goal at the FIFA World Cup. It is thought that his own goal was the catalyst for heavy gambling losses sustained by drug warlords who then took their revenge on the Atletico National defender. Hansie Cronje was also subjected to death threats as a result of his role in the “tempted by Satan” affair of 2000 while mystery still surrounds the 2007 death of Bob Woolmer at the ICC World Cup. That Woolmer, the retiring coach of Pakistan, was to publish a tell-all memoir detailing gambling's arm-in-arm relationship with Pakistani cricket can hardly have eased suspicions of a gambling-driven murder.
That our athletes are subjected to such stresses makes me very, very sad. There's no question that each person seduced by gamblers, be it for information, point shaving/spot fixing or match fixing deserves to be punished to the full extent of the laws for that sport. If that's a flat ban, then so be it. Should the laws dictate fines and suspensions, then apply them to the fullest. But the laws need to be enforced by the police and the governing bodies and not by individuals. Taking one's frustration out on a person who's wronged you rarely helps a situation and tends only to complicate matters – but sporting pride or indeed national pride engenders such fierce parochialism that it becomes impossible to talk with a devotee in rational terms. A case of “white line fever” can develop remarkably quickly into the more serious “white line foaming at the mouth” and finally result in “white line dead-on-arrival”.
No doubt Mohammed Asif fears for his safety. He lives in a country in which disease, death and destruction are commonplace yet has risen to become one of the world's best fast bowlers and he's done this amidst violence on a scale that most of us could only have nightmares about. If he fears for his safety, you can be sure he has ample reason. To take money from gamblers means that you are always in their pocket – they can always approach you again, and if you ever refuse the option forever remains for them to “out” you. Or “off” you. And if exposed, you risk the scorn (at best) and the vengeful ire (at worst) of your country's sporting faithful. So no matter what your economic situation, to take money from these people is naive at best, clinically stupid at worst.
As the good Doctor tells us in the opening quote, the very stupid may think that gambler's money is just easy cash and this obviously is not the case. A fool isn't necessarily someone who doesn't see risk – that simply makes them unfortunate or unintelligent – a fool is someone who justifies that risk as worthwhile. And the very powerful will always have that power. Like any good gambler, the powerful ensure they hold all the cards before being dealt in. If only we could say the same for the very stupid.