Despite the deadly bombings in Lahore on Wednesday, the continued misery and rage of millions of Pakistanis affected by the worst flooding in decades, the murder of a female teacher by militants and the unsealing of a report to Pakistan’s Supreme Court on the lynching of two teenage boys wrongly suspected of theft by an angry mob, Pakistan’s leading newspaper, Dawn, still managed to find room on its home page on Thursday for a report on a meeting between the country’s top diplomat in Britain and three scandal-plagued cricket stars.
After that meeting, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, told the media that the three players, who are accused of agreeing to take part in a betting scam that was actually an elaborate sting operation by a British newspaper, are “innocent.” In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Hasan endorsed the theory that an apparently damning video of the sting operation, in which an agent for several players promised to have two of them make foul throws at certain stages of a match to help gamblers, might be fake.
After reading a statement in which he said the players insisted that they were innocent, Mr. Hasan asked a BBC reporter how he knew that the News of the World’s video of the fixer apparently telling an undercover reporter when certain events would happen in a match in exchange for more than $230,000 in cash was genuine:
We have not seen, as a matter of fact — [the] videos, were they timed? Were they dated? Do you have answers to the questions? Were they timed or dated, your videos, where they were timed and dated? Whether they were taken before the match or after the match or some other time?
Asked if he thought the three players had been “set up,” Mr. Hasan said, “Well, yes, I would say that.”
Later, however, the International Cricket Council, the sport’s governing body located in Dubai, posted a statement on its Web site announcing that it had suspended the players and charged them with misconduct:
The International Cricket Council has charged three Pakistan players with various offences under Article 2 of the ICC Anti-Corruption Code for Players and Player Support Personnel relating to alleged irregular behavior during, and in relation to, the fourth Test between England and Pakistan at Lord’s last month.
The three players, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, have been officially notified of the offences they are alleged to have committed and have been provisionally suspended pending a decision on those charges.
Before Thursday’s meeting, The Guardian reported that “Pakistan’s captain, Salman Butt, and opening bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, claim the allegations that have rocked cricket are part of a conspiracy against them.”
Owen Gibson, The Guardian’s man in the media scrum around the Pakistani diplomat, noted that while the Mr. Hasan was speaking to the press, he was “persistently asked by Pakistani journalists, who believe the team is the victim of a conspiracy: ‘What about India?’ ”
Earlier this week, a Pakistani blogger and filmmaker, Ahmer Naqvi, wrote that the quick resort to conspiracy theories to absolve Pakistanis of all responsibility for the nation’s ills was itself a national problem:
The misfortune of Pakistan is that its tragedy appears as farce.
Over the past few years, our screens have been awash with images both gruesome and depressing in equal measures. And they have been punctually followed by television anchors and television politicians blaming India, Israel, C.I.A., NASA and any other bogeyman you can think of -– as long as the perpetrators weren’t one of us.
Each time, amidst the despondency, I would find myself laughing at such incredulous claims. When, I would wonder, will such people face up to the brazen facts?
Over the past 48 hours, one of the greatest passions of my life has witnessed a sickening turn of events.
And since then, people have asked one of Pakistan’s largest religious communities –- the cricket fans -– when will you face up to the facts?
On Twitter, another Pakistani blogger, who writes as PakChitChat, commented:
Corruption/cheating @all levels of society-discussing Match Fixing like discussing Symptoms but overlooking Cancer.
Some observers have pointed out that since it was an undercover reporter for The News of the World and not a gambler who apparently paid to have the players make certain errors, even if they did agree to do so, no crime was actually committed, since no bets were place on their actions. But, if the players are guilty, they may have hurt their nation in another, more profound way. Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported earlier this week that another government official, the minister for law and justice, Babar Awan, had suggested that the allegations against the players had damaged the nation’s credibility at a time when it is depending of international goodwill to raise money to help Pakistanis displaced by the floods.
In a blog post for The London Review of Books the Pakistani writer Tariq Ali heartily disagreed with the conspiracy theorists, writing, “Nobody who has followed cricket in Pakistan over the last three or four decades can have been surprised by the revelations in The News of the World. Cricket in Pakistan has long been institutionally corrupt.”
He also noted that the feeling is widely shared and could be seen in the intensity of the anger among fans of the sport who took to the streets in protest earlier this week. He added that the players might find the public less willing to accept their behavior than indulgent officials:
The mood in Pakistan is bitter, angry and vengeful. Effigies of Salman Butt have been burned, his name has been painted on donkeys and the no-ball bowlers are being violently abused all over the country. Demands that the corrupt cricketers be hanged in public are gaining ground. Among younger members of the elite there is shock that Butt (educated at a posh school) has let the side down. Mohammad Amir they could understand since he’s from a poor family. The blindness of this cocooned layer of young Pakistanis is hardly a surprise, but popular anger should not be underestimated. The no-ballers and their captain will need round-the-clock security when they return – Nytimes