The smartwatches Asad Shafiq and Babar wore on the first day of the first Test between England and Pakistan, spurred a mini-scandal. Legally non-permissable, there was no allegation of corrupt practices though. However, it presents the opportunity to probe the legality (or the lack of it) of players wearing smartwatches on the field.
How did the Pakistani players’ smart-watches come under the ACSU’s watch?
Two Pakistani players, Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam, were spotted wearing smartwatches during the first day’s play at Lord’s in the Test against England. The issue was brought to light when pictures emerged of Shafiq in particular glancing at his watch while on the field. An Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) officer is then learnt to have subsequently gone to the Pakistan dressing-room at the end of England’s innings and informed the players that they weren’t allowed to wear smartwatches on the field of play. There was, however, no allegation of any corrupt practices being indulged in or of any other wrong-doing by the players in question.
Why were the Pakistanis barred from wearing smartwatches?
According to the ICC regulations on anti-corruption, “Communication devices are prohibited within the player and match officials area (PMOA), barring specific exceptions. Without exception, no player shall be in possession of, or use a communication device (such as a mobile phone or a device which is connected to the internet), while in the PMOA.” Now, smartwatches aren’t mentioned specifically in those regulations—perhaps because they weren’t so commonly in use back then—and therefore fell into a grey area before coming to the fore at Lord’s. A media release from the ICC on the issue cleared the air further. “Smartwatches in any way connected to a phone or Wi-Fi or in any way capable of receiving communications are not allowed and as such we will be reminding players that such devices must be surrendered along with their mobile devices on arrival at the ground on match days,” it read.
The ICC’s attempts at clamping down on match-fixing over the last few years has led to players and officials having to surrender their mobile phones to an ACSU official when they arrive at the ground (a practice that’s often witnessed on TV these days during the lead-up shows). They’re returned to them only after the day’s play is done. The only communication devices allowed are walkie talkies for officials and the support staff. That’s because walkie-talkies do not breach the protocol that bars the use of any kind of “telephone capable of making calls from inside or receiving calls from outside the PMOA”.
Why would Pakistani players wearing smartwatches in the first place?
With the fitness levels around world cricket having reached lofty levels, players have become very aware of their workload. And some players, including Shafiq, have spoken about how donning a Fitbit or a smartwatch gives them an accurate measure of their workout and helps them set up for future targets that they’ll need to achieve. While Fitbits were originally designed more as “activity trackers” the latest models of high-end wristbands are every bit as “smart” as the Apple watches. The watches, technically, could still be worn if they are disabled and hence in no way capable of transmitting any signal required for any kind of internet services. But the ICC perhaps thought it wise to eliminate any risk of eyebrow-raising by simply asking the Pakistani players to stop wearing them.
Is this the first case of players being spotted with them on the field?
All-rounder Jofra Archer has been spotted wearing what looks like a Fitbit during the IPL and the BBL. The IPL regulations that more or less mirror the ICC ones. “Each team manager shall be permitted to carry a Mobile Device within the PMOA, provided that it is used either: (a) by him/her for cricket operations purposes only; and/or (b) by any Player or Player Support Personnel for any important personal matter, provided that the team manager has given his express permission to the Player or Player Support Personnel before such use,” it reads. According to a BCCI official, players had been informed beforehand about not being allowed to wear smartwatches.