Some years ago there was a footballer in the top flight of the English game called Vinnie Jones.
A committed hard man, for sure, but also a player who only had to breathe on an opponent to get the referee reaching for his card and the football authorities up in arms in righteous indignation.
It was a monkey see monkey do situation, a self-fulfilling prophecy which played right into the hands of the tabloid media whose stock in trade is negativity.
We see it off the sports field too, with wayward celebrities singled out by the tabloids as the “It” girls or boys.
Or, more appropriately, the “Get” girls or boys. American movie star, Lindsay Lohan, is a current example. She can’t do right for doing wrong in the eyes of the tabloid media who’ve put a target on her back with a paparazzi lens trained on the bullseye.
At present, the “Get” boys in sport are the cricketers of Pakistan. “Exposed” in the last few weeks as allegedly inveterate cheats, they’ve been portrayed by Britain’s Sun and News of the World newspapers, (both from the News Corporation stable), as players who’ll throw no balls and surrender their wickets with impunity if it means getting their hands on the payola offered by the world’s equally inveterate gambling syndicates.
There’s even a sexy new buzzword to headline the whole sorry affair “Spot Fixing”..
ta-dah!….All this without, as yet, a shred of corroborated evidence beyond that offered by the tabloid investigation.
In time of course, it may all turn out to be true. Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, Wahab Riaz, or any combination thereof, may have colluded with a syndicate in a cash for no-balls betting scam.
The entire Pakistani cricket team, or certain members of it, may, inexplicably, have thrown caution to the wind while already under the microscope, and failed to play with a straight bat against England in the third one day international of their series. But the fact is we don’t know.
That, of course, never worries a tabloid news editor. It’s the casting of aspersions that sells, and, at present, that’s what we’re dealing with here.
Plus, if those aspersions can stir up a bonus hornets nest, as seems to be the case with the counter claim by Pakistan Cricket Board chairman, Ijaz Butt, who says bookies have intimated that it was England that lost on purpose, then that’s all grist to the mill, because this story can run and run.
Therefore, with such dubious motivations underlying the bearers of bad news I’m pleased to see that the International Cricket Council is proceeding with extreme caution.
Not only because the claims against Pakistan undermine the integrity of one of the world’s most passionate cricket-playing nations, and therefore one of the sport’s most lucrative markets, but also because the ICC’s own reputation is on the line.
It’s already been embarrassed by the fact that a tabloid news organization appears to know more about what’s really going on in cricket than the sport’s governing body.
And it now needs to tread a very careful path by way of a response to maintain its own credibility. Yes, we live in the print and be damned world of the tabloids, but the burden of proof should still lie with the prosecution. And, as far as I can see, for the moment, the cricketers of Pakistan only appear guilty by reputation.