I just can’t watch anymore

Fans are bearing the brunt of the latest match-fixing scandal, no doubt about it.

A week ago my faith in cricket was shattered. The News of the World – a British tabloid – spent a large amount of money breaking a match-fixing scandal within the Pakistani national team, currently on a tour to England. It detailed how bowlers deliberately delivered no-balls exactly when a middle-man told them to – and this for £10 000. A little bit more was paid to the man (about R1.7-million to be more specific) for matches to be thrown.

Yes, speculation was rife regarding wide-spread match-fixing in international cricket. But this was different as it had finally been proven. It was on camera. It became all-too-real.

And the News of the World will tomorrow (Sunday, September 5) release 18 pages of more information on the scandal. This includes comment from a top Pakistani player – Yasir Hameed – that the player were fixing “almost every match”. The 18 pages also includes transcripts of recorded coversations and text messages exchanged since the investigation started in January. It also includes details on a fourth player charged and lists the 30-odd charges the players are likely to face.

While it might sound like it, this isn’t a plug for the News of the World – although I can’t praise them highly enough for doing the story and splashing the cash needed to do the story. What I’m getting at here is how this type of thing will affect sports fans the world over.

I can’t watching Pakistan play cricket again. No matter what happens there will be a lingering voice in the back of my mind that asks, “Is this match rigged? Was that drop catch really a drop catch, or a deliberate drop catch?”

During the final Test against England, Pakistan had their hosts on the ropes. They were bowling beautifully and taking wickets at regular intervals. They looked outstanding. But then two tail-enders got massive hundreds and put on a massive partnership, effectively taking the game away from the visitors. Eventually Pakistan would lose the test be an innings-and-shit-loads-of-runs, their worst defeat in cricketing history.

As my sports editor Simon Osler said this evening: “Should their be an asterix next to the batsmen’s names? Were their runs scored in a genuine first class match, or a rigged match?” He shrugged his shoulders. I ask now: was the match itself rigged? Did the bowlers deliberately bowl badly and the batsmen deliberately crumble faster than a Middle Eastern peace agreement?

I don’t know – and that’s exactly the problem. The fans don’t know what is real anymore. And you can bet safely that this whole betting thing isn’t isolated.

News of the World's latest installment of the cricket match-fixing scandal.

Maybe even soccer is affected… You know, those “acts of stupidity” that lead to red cards and, ultimately, losses – are those real? Are there spot bets (betting on specific incidents rather than the result) over who will get yellow carded first, sent off first, win the first throw in, etc? If this does happen then the match – parts of it, at least – are being fixed.

Rugby, too, could easily be affected. Giving away of ridiculous yellow cards, conceding tries from blatant errors… These are all things that can be spot betted on. Tennis, too. And F1 motor racing. And golf. And. And. And. Any sport can be touched by this.

Is widespread match-fixing happening across sporting codes? I don’t know – and that’s exactly the problem.

If sports fans can’t tell for sure that what they’re watching is really real, then what’s the point of watching? For a sports fan to be a real sports fan there can be no doubting of the reality of what they’re watching.

Sadly, that doubt has just crept in.

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