Cricket: Entrapment journalism overshadows record breaking Test Match

BBC latest on spot betting allegations. Something is clearly rotten in the state — but is it cricket, or agent provocateur journalism which seeks to entrap athletes in a way which would never be admissible if the police did it? One of the greatest best days’ cricket of recent years, when 17 wickets fell in a single day, and Broad and Trott put on the world record for an eighth wicket test partnership, and Broad narrowly missed becoming the highest scoring number nine batsmen in an incredible display of talent and dedication which took the team from 102/7 to 434/8, is now described with the brutal summary: “England beat Pakistan in tarnished test”. No matter that this was — by a long way — England’s biggest margin of victory over Pakistan, a staggering innings and  225 runs, after a catastrophic start when teenage Pakistan fast-bowler Amir became the youngest person to reach 50 test wickets, while England batsman Jonathan Trott went on to narrowly miss being the first player to score consecutive double-centuries at Lords as he steadied the ship.

It is absolutely clear that athletes in every sport at whatever level should behave diligently and honourably, tarnishing sport neither with drug-taking nor taking of bribes nor any other kind of corrupt behaviour. Athletes representing their country in front of the world’s cameras in a major sport share this obligation, and the implications of failing in it are far worse for the reputation of sport overall, and their nation’s and their game’s sport even more.

But, equally, there is a world of difference between a journalist who discovers that a scam or corrupt behaviour is taking place and exposes it, and a newspaper — which, it appears from the reports — took active steps to lure athletes into committing a crime.

As the Pakistan team manager Yawar Saeed has very properly said, no allegations are true until they are proved. It is still possible that Pakistan’s crickets will be exonerated, and that the News of the World will withdraw its story.

However, this does not resolve the issue of entrapment journalism.

The Press Complaints Commission Editors’ Code of Conduct makes the following ruling: “Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.”

Most of us would accept that, when this involves the exposure of a paedophile, sex trafficking or drug smuggling ring, subterfuge does work in the public interest. But what about cricket betting? The News of the World article makes it clear that the editors believe they were engaging with an existing gambling cartel. But who exactly was in that ring? It seems unlikely that, before this series, Mohammed Amir would have been especially high up a cartel’s list of targets.

If we take the News of the World story at face value, then a crooked manager agreed to fix certain aspects of the game. But the News of the World has no insights about how that manager persuaded players (if he did). Consider the kind of pressure that a crooked manager (allegedly) could bring to bear on a teenage cricket star who had just delivered six wickets at Lords for the first time. Was Amir promised money? How much money? What other tricks, techniques and cunning were brought to bear?

The issue here is that — it would appear — the News of the World actually commissioned a crime, which then went on to take place. This is not the same as a TV reporter who gets to the point of buying a trafficked woman, and then pushes the deal away, having gained the footage he needs. Nor is it the same as a team of journalists meeting a known drugs-dealer in order to film a drugs deal right up to the moment money changes hands. In this particular case, there is no reason to believe that the crime would have taken place at all, and no assurance that pressure of a kind few of us can imagine was not brought to bear on an impressionable but previously untainted teenager.

When offered wealth on the one hand, and the threat of losing an agent’s essential support on the other, how many people really would manage to say no? Supposing their family was also threatened? Supposing photographs of a sensitive nature were produced? I have no idea whether any of this happened or not, but, crucially, in offering money to have a crime committed, neither did the News of the World.

This is the reason why the police are not allowed to persuade criminals to commit crimes in order to prosecute them. Far too many otherwise virtuous people have been persuaded to do things they would afterwards regret. It is far too easy, in that way, to convict someone for a crime they would never have dreamt of if they had not been thus entrapped.

I, for one, will remember this Test Match for the outstanding cricket, for the heart-in-mouth turnaround, for the heroism of Broad and Trott, and for the bowling of Mohammed Amir in the first innings.

But, at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Liverpool this month, I will be pressing for a change in the law, not merely the Press Complaints Commission Code, to prevent newspapers ever adopting these kinds of practices again.

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