Tim Wig­more warns that match fix­ers may be em­bold­ened by the wage dis­par­ity at in­ter­na­tional level

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

And so to women’s cricket to­day. World­wide, the sport has never been in bet­ter shape, as ev­i­denced by the 128 mil­lion who watched the Women’s World Cup fi­nal in In­dia alone.

The un­prece­dented in­ter­est is wholly wel­come, but it would be naive to pre­tend that it does not bring grave risks: above all, the height­ened risk of match-fix­ing. If women’s cricket has never been more pop­u­lar, it has also never been more at­trac­tive for fix­ers.

To make a profit from their crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, book­mak­ers re­quire liq­uid­ity in bet­ting mar­kets – that is, as much money be­ing bet as pos­si­ble. The more there is, the more profit for cor­rup­tors.

In July, the Women’s World Cup fi­nal had £78m traded on Bet­fair – an 860 per cent in­crease on the 2013 fi­nal. Bet­fair, of course, are merely one of the book­mak­ers of­fer­ing odds on the event. World­wide, more than 150 dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies – in­clud­ing co­pi­ous il­le­gal book­mak­ers in In­dia – of­fered odds.

The up­shot is that, although we will never know, it is con­ceiv­able that a to­tal of £1bn world­wide was bet on the fi­nal.

This should be a grave worry to all in­volved in the women’s game: it shows that the risk of the sport be­ing sul­lied by cor­rup­tion, just as the men’s game still is, is acute. For end­lessly mal­leable book­mak­ers, the fe­male game presents a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to make even greater riches.

How can the women’s game guard against this threat? Player ed­u­ca­tion, al­ready be­ing in­creased in Aus­tralia and Eng­land, is ob­vi­ously fun­da­men­tal. The In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil al­ready po­lices fe­male in­ter­na­tion­als in a sim­i­lar way to the men’s game.

Yet there is much more that could be done. Tony Ir­ish, the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of FICA, the in­ter­na­tional crick­eters’ play­ers as­so­ci­a­tion, wants a gen­uinely global anti-cor­rup­tion ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme – that is, a cen­tral pro­gramme for all pro­fes­sional crick­eters, rather than merely those who play in­ter­na­tion­ally.

The dan­ger at the mo­ment is that play­ers are ap­proached and en­listed while they are play­ing in do­mes­tic cricket, and earn puny amounts – and are al­ready in too deep by the time they get to the in­ter­na­tional game.

Ex­perts be­lieve that matches are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble when they are tele­vised to a large global au­di­ence yet play­ers are still un­der­paid. Wor­ry­ingly, this de­scrip­tion fits a large amount of women’s in­ter­na­tional cricket.

Be­yond Aus­tralia, Eng­land and In­dia, most in­ter­na­tion­als from other ma­jor cricket na­tions are lowly paid, of­ten sup­port­ing them­selves with other jobs. Ut­terly mer­ited re­sent­ment about how lit­tle they are paid – salaries are a bet­ter re­flec­tion of which coun­try they hap­pen to be from, rather than their abil­ity – could make them sus­cep­ti­ble to ap­proaches from fix­ers. His­tor­i­cally, play­ers have of­ten been paid late too: an­other clas­sic in­gre­di­ent that in­creases play­ers’ vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

There is an ob­vi­ous step that the ICC could take to re­duce this risk. Given that the salaries paid to women crick­eters vary so much, the ICC could in­tro­duce a cen­tralised pot, to fund cen­tral con­tracts for, say, the top 15 women crick­eters among the lead­ing ten na­tions to­day, topped up with matches fees.

Na­tional boards would be free to make sup­ple­men­tary pay­ments. But the cru­cial prin­ci­ple would be that, for all those on cen­tral con­tracts, their salaries would be suf­fi­cient to make cricket a gen­uinely full-time oc­cu­pa­tion. When part-timers, who some­times train for 20 hours a week along­side their other jobs, play against full-time crick­eters in in­ter­na­tion­als, it is not only un­fair on a sport­ing level; the dif­fer­ence in cir­cum­stances in­creases the risk of fix­ing.

As the women’s Ashes be­gins, it is a chas­ten­ing thought: the women’s game is more vul­ner­a­ble to cor­rup­tion than ever be­fore. Hap­pily, there have yet to be any con­firmed cases of fix­ing in fe­male cricket.

But, un­less gov­ern­ing bod­ies world­wide are proac­tive in recog­nis­ing the threat, it is in­evitable that women’s cricket will have to en­dure the same fix­ing scan­dals as the men’s game.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Mind the pay gap: Eng­land cel­e­brate their World Cup win but other coun­tries’ play­ers are not so well paid

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