LONDON, (Reuters) – Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were jailed today for their roles in a spot-fixing scandal which the judge said had damaged the integrity of a game renowned for its fairness.
Former captain Butt was sentenced to 30 months, while Asif was given one year and fellow pace bowler Amir six months as the sporting world was given a strong message that corruption would be punished by much more than fines and suspensions.
The trio were part of a gambling-inspired plot to bowl no-balls at pre-arranged times during a test match against England at London’s Lord’s Cricket Ground in August 2010.
“The image and integrity of what was once a game but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skills that you had,” judge Jeremy Cooke told the courtroom.
“Now, whenever people look back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result, or whenever in the future there are surprising events or results, followers of the game who have paid good money to watch it … will be left to wonder whether there has been fixing and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball.”
Sports agent Mazhar Majeed, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to making corrupt payments at a pre-trial hearing, was jailed for two years and eight months at London’s Southwark Crown Court.
Majeed, who implicated another unnamed Pakistan player in court, was trapped in a sting by former UK newspaper the News Of the World which broke the spot-fixing story.
The cricketers, already banned from playing by the International Cricket Council for a minimum of five years, showed no reaction as the sentences were handed out amid strong words from the judge who said they had tainted a game known for its fairness.
“‘It’s not cricket’ was an adage,” Cooke said.
“It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it that make the offences so serious.”
The age-old sport of cricket has much stricter rules than many other team pursuits with a shake of a head at an umpire’s decision often warranting a fine for ungentlemanly conduct.
Butt, 27, and Asif, 28, were found guilty on Tuesday of taking bribes while 19-year-old Amir admitted his part in the scam before the trial started and had also offered a heartfelt apology during the sentence hearing.
The case has prompted calls back home in Pakistan for the game to be radically cleaned up.
While Butt’s father Zulfiqar said his son — who faces a long wait to meet the baby his wife gave birth to earlier this week — had been made a scapegoat, others said the players had deserved their punishments.
“These convictions will hopefully serve as a deterrent to others in the future because cricket should not be allowed to be corrupted by anyone,” former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif told Reuters.
Some thought the sanctions had not been harsh enough with corruption suspected in Pakistani cricket for years.
“They should have been given a stricter punishment. These people should be made an example for others. I think the punishment they got was much less then what they deserve,” said Noman Saeed, a telecoms official in Karachi and a cricket fan.
“Now that they have been proven guilty, there should be no sympathy for them. And now a proper investigation should be launched and others involved should also be apprehended.”
Butt, Asif and Majeed are expected to begin their sentences at Wandsworth prison in south London, while Amir is due to be sent to a young offenders’ institute in west London.
Lawyers for Butt and Amir have said they will be appealing the sentences.
Pakistan cricket was already suffering from the team having to play home matches away from the country because of security concerns there. The team are this week playing Sri Lanka in a “home” test in the United Arab Emirates.
The Pakistan cricket board (PCB) distanced itself from the convicted players, saying the trio had let the country down.
“It is a sad day for Pakistan cricket that these players instead of having pride in playing for their country chose to disappoint their supporters and let their nation down,” PCB official Nadeem Sarwar said.
The PCB also reiterated its support for all anti-corruption measures taken by the International Cricket Council and member boards and said it would be recommending to the government to draft laws against corruption and fixing in cricket.
Fighting corruption in sport has become one of the International Olympic Committee’s main goals.
The world’s most popular sport, soccer, has been besieged by corruption allegations in the past year and now cricket is fighting to maintain its integrity.
Corruption in cricket famously hit the headlines in South Africa when former captain Hansie Cronje received a lifetime ban from the game in 2000 for his part in match-rigging.
“The reality is that, maybe 10 years from now, we might still be talking about the same issue,” South Africa team manager Mohammed Moosajee told a news conference in Johannesburg.
“Greed and corruption is a reality of the modern world that we live in. For us it is about minimising the risks and exposure to players.”