In a first for a South Asian nation, Sri Lanka has criminalised several offences related to match-fixing, and decreed strict penalties in the wake of the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) of International Cricket Council (ICC) into the country’s cricket, which has been roiled by corruption scandals over the past two years.
On Monday, Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed all three readings of The Prevention of Offences Related to Sports Bill that entails a prison term of up to 10 years for corruption in sports, as well as hefty fines up to 100 million Sri Lankan rupees.
The Bill, which was presented by Sports Minister Harin Fernando, found strong backing from Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup winning captain and Cabinet minister Arjuna Ranatunga.
Match-fixing is a serious crime in a number of other cricketing nations, including England and Australia.
What does Sri Lanka’s new match-fixing law say?
According to the new legislation, “any person related to a sport” who is directly involved in fixing, as well as those who “provide inside information”, curators who prepare pitches to suit betting operators, and match officials who “deliberately misapply the rules” for money, will be punished.
Failure to report corrupt approaches to the ACU under the ICC Code and to a Special Investigation Unit appointed by the Sri Lankan government will also attract punishment.
What are the punishments and list of new offences under the law?
The new legislation lists offences and punishments under three broad categories.
The first batch of offences includes match-fixing and spot-fixing, providing inside information on the game in anything other than “bona fide media interviews and commitments”, providing or receiving gifts, payments, benefits or rewards that might bring the sport into disrepute, players betting on games in which they are involved, match officials misapplying rules for money or another benefit, curators who either prepare a playing surface or provide information for money or another benefit and introducing potential corruptors to current players.
For these offences, the maximum punishment includes 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 million rupees (approximately $555,000).
The second batch of offences includes failing to appear, without reasonable cause, before investigators, refusing or failing to answer any questions posed by investigators, knowingly providing a false or misleading statement, concealing, falsifying, destroying evidence relevant to an investigation, and failing to report a corrupt approach.
For these offences, the legislation provides for a maximum punishment of three years in prison and a fine of 200,000 rupees (approximately $1,100).
The third type of offence listed under the new legislation pertains to any service provider or person who fails to maintain confidentiality after being asked to provide information or data related to an investigation.
For this, the law provides a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 rupees (approximately $2,800).
Why was such a bill passed in Sri Lanka?
For the past two years, Sri Lankan Cricket has been embroiled in several instances of corruption and match-fixing. The cricket board has been under the scanner of the ICC’s ACU since 2017, after former opener Sanath Jayasuriya was charged under the ICC Code, and was handed a two-year ban for failing to co-operate with the agency in a match-fixing probe.
Soon after, former pacer Nuwan Zoysa was suspended for alleged involvement in match-fixing. And last year, fast bowler Dilhara Lokuhettige was suspended for corruption in a T-10 league in 2017, and charged with fixing and failure to disclose corrupt approaches.
What is the progress on a law on match-fixing in India?
Although cricket betting is illegal in India, it is legal in many other countries where session bets can be placed on matches happening in India.
In July 2018, in a report titled “Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including in Cricket in India”, the Law Commission under Justice B S Chauhan recommended that “match-fixing and sports fraud” be deemed as “criminal offences”, and be dealt with “severe punishments”.
The report by the Commission came after the Supreme Court asked it to look into the Justice R M Lodha Committee’s recommendation for “betting to be legalized by law” in India, and the “enactment” of a suitable Law for the same.
The Lodha Committee was constituted in January 2015 to bring reforms into Indian cricket on the back of the IPL spot-fixing scandal involving the former India quick S Sreesanth.
In December last year, Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor had introduced a Private Member’s Bill to regulate sports betting and penalise match-fixing.
Don’t miss from Explained: On World Pneumonia Day, the disease and its burden