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July 30, 2001

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Bring back Hansie... as an example

Daniel Laidlaw

Hansie Cronje is one of world cricket's most valuable assets and the United Cricket Board of South Africa fails to realise it. Cronje has the status of a unique breed of modern ex-cricketer - one suspended for self-confessed match-fixing sins. His experience is of considerable value to world cricket, if only it was harnessed.

Hansie Cronje Having a person with Cronje's knowledge and experience of the darkest side of the game ever known lurking in limbo - or forever cast aside in purgatory, if the UCB had its way - is a profligate waste of resources. Forgiveness? Not at all. But it is counter-productive and petty not to utilise such a figure as a tool not to help rid the game of those still involved with bookmakers, for we can be fairly certain Cronje has revealed as much as he ever will, but as someone who can prevent those liaisons occurring in the future. As we know, prevention is better than cure, and failing to use Cronje in order to make a political point does not benefit the game.

Regardless of how many bank accounts Cronje has, it's time to bring him back in a capacity that helps cricket, if he is willing. There is still a disturbing sense of denial pervading cricket and it would do well to confront its demons, of which Cronje certainly is one.

In terms of international publicity the match-fixing issue is in relative recession, simmering away in the background, but it's only a matter of time before it explosively re-ignites, most likely in a couple of months when Cronje challenges his ban in court. A successful appeal there would be enormously embarrassing to world cricket, so it would be better to initiate preventative measures by taking early control of the situation.

Cronje has revealed himself through his actions to be an unscrupulous, greedy man. After more than a year spent feeling sorry for himself and blaming the devil, the return to the public cricket world he seeks is doubtless motivated in part by what he can earn. As the first and so far only case of being a confessed taker-of-money-to-fix-events-within-matches, as opposed to directly trying to lose, Cronje's post-scandal financial opportunities were ironically always going to be huge. He has already reportedly received considerable sums to reveal his thoughts and a lucrative book deal can't be far away.

One way or another, Cronje was going to return to public life and make money, confronting us all again. Given that, it is only logical that he be used in a way that can best serve world cricket, a role that the UCB has thus far been slow to accept. Excessive punishment is effectively useless. Other than being suspended from ever playing, coaching or administrating again at a representative level, further measures are little more than a publicity stunt.

The UCB, or even better the ICC, should appoint Cronje as an adviser and lecturer on corruption in cricket. Unpalatable as it may sound, it serves a far greater purpose than him being contracted to a television network for commentary duty. More than coaching, the use cricket has for Cronje is as the world's most recognisable spokesman on corruption.

Currently, as part of their training at national cricket academies, young cricketers are reportedly educated on the pitfalls of corruption. Reading warnings and lists of do's and don'ts when called by the friendly local bookie is all very well, but does not necessarily relate to the real world. Cronje could be used as a graphic figurehead to ram home the message that corruption is ruinous, with consequences not worth risking. It would be the most positive and pro-active step the ICC has taken in the entire saga, since it is seemingly unable to uncover evidence to ban anyone else.

Forget the current generation of international stars. The guilty ones, and surely there can be no doubt in light of all the allegations that the ranks of international players still include the corrupt, are too far gone and are unlikely to ever be caught. They have either got away or were never identified in the first place. We can only ensure that their practices leave with them. They can never be learned from because, after all, they are clean. Mukesh who?

Cronje is very different, and that's why he has to be used. In the United States, the professional sports leagues educate young draftees on the hazards of being a highly paid pro, which includes corruption. Processes are in place to target the young and vulnerable players, which is the most effective measure of all. It's a sensible and typically professional approach. The National Football League even discourages any references to sports gambling, with teams not allowed to accept advertising from gambling establishments. Cricket is obviously restricted from imposing similar rules due to its international nature, but you have to wonder at the impression being created when Brian Lara, one of the sport's leading players who himself has been accused of accepting money from Gupta to under-perform, is sponsored by gambling company Intertops.

It has been acknowledged that rooting out corruption is a slow and laborious process. It does not end with the 2003 World Cup, as Sir Paul Condon wants. We can't take action and then blithely accept that it has now stopped, which admittedly the Anti-Corruption Unit also acknowledges. Illegal bookies and susceptible players will always remain. The bookies can't be stopped, but the weak-willed players can be warned and educated in such a forceful way that temptation is at least reduced.

Herschelle Gibbs is one such malleable player who, though seemingly obtuse could probably have been dissuaded from taking money with the right system in place. Basically, it's cricket's only hope. The answer lies in the next generation, the teenagers now in the cricket academies who are approaching first-class cricket and those even younger who are just taking up the game and have lived through the issue.

What is the message they will have taken from all this? Honestly, it is a confusing one. A mere handful punished, countless others free. The record of the authorities is hardly an imposing deterrent. Hopefully, it is enough to believe that corruption is not profitable. Unfortunately, all too much circumstantial evidence suggests that it is.

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