“Are you on an earner?” asked a former England captain of a current England player in the Lord’s media centre this summer. The player was off-duty in the sense that he wasn’t playing in the game but he was on-duty in the sense that he was wearing the badge of a sponsor doing some glad-handing with competition winners and generally doing what brand ambassadors in these uber-corporate times.
The question made me wince. Not because I have some puritanical objection to players endorsing brands to supplement their earnings. It was the casual cynicism that got me.
Of the many strands of awfulness that cricket’s fortnight in the dock has exposed, the naked greed of the individuals involved is in many ways the most worrying and the hardest to police. It is a universal vice and manifests itself in many forms.
A few years ago friend of mine used to work on Manchester United’s official club magazine. One of the leading players of the time returned my friends call regarding a pre-arranged interview. The player then insisted that my friend phoned him back again so that he didn’t have to bear the cost of the call. This was a senior, very well-known Premier League footballer who would have been earning tens of thousands of pounds a week.
You can still be corrupt even if you’ve never thought of throwing a match. Agents can still be vile and dodgy even if they don’t lean on their clients to bowl a pre-arranged no-ball.
Sportsmen of all kinds love a punt. Some have even been known to bet on themselves, perish the thought. Legal gambling doesn’t stop it being a highly corruptible influence. “It matters more when there’s money on it,” was Skybet’s advertising slogan for a while. Interpret the double, triple meanings as you see fit.
The ECB recently hooked with a betting partner to add to their portfolio of official endorsements. It feels like they’re on potentially dodgy ground but then they know all about that. Regardless of what was later to become of Allen Stanford the biggest stain on Giles Clarke’s chairmanship of ECB is the entire lack of acceptance that the Stanford episode in any way sold whatever remained of the game’s soul. Once money becomes the sole point of the arrangement of sporting fixtures then the game is up.
It is the administrative greed that creates the fertile ground for corruption. It seems to be taken entirely for read these days by governing bodies that generating income is their primary or even only raison d’être.
And all the anti-corruption units in the world will not solve that fundamentally corrupt mindset.