Eye on the ball

An anti-fixing law will run up against the difficulty of detecting malpractices

The recent spot-fixing scandal in the “gentlemen’s game” has highlighted the inadequacy of our criminal laws in dealing with such cases. The police have sought to book the players under Sections 420, 120B and 409 of the IPC. But can these sections appropriately address and check this menace? The answer, unfortunately, is in the negative.

For an offence under Section 409, there needs to be a breach of trust by a public servant or an agent. The BCCI, the franchisee and the players entered into a tripartite agreement for securing the services of the player for the team. Therefore, it would be very difficult to establish that the player was acting as an agent of the franchisee or the BCCI. In order to prove cheating under Section 420, one needs to establish that the accused, dishonestly and with an intention to defraud, induced a person to deliver property. Though cheating could be established as per the rules of cricket, the act of dishonestly inducing a person to deliver property is difficult to prove. Primarily, it is the punters who have been cheated of their property or security, which in itself is illegal in India. It is debatable whether the act of “fixing” a game or parts of it amounts to cheating (as defined in the IPC) audiences and fans.

Provisions in the existing regulations to address match-fixing and spot-fixing are not wholly absent. The ICC has an anti-corruption code for participants and the BCCI’s anti-corruption code contains similar provisions. But the power to take action under these codes is limited to the participants and cannot include the bookies and punters. This is because the code can be applied only after a contractual arrangement between the participants and the governing body. And bookies are (thankfully) not part of such an arrangement. Further, since the code is imposed by the governing body of the sport, the penal provisions are of disciplinary nature. Penalties range from bans to fines. Wrongdoers cannot be punished for criminal breach of law.

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