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Why I stopped watching cricket

When I was a very young boy in Nairobi, watching wrestling on TV was all the rage. Every week, whole families would sit down and be regaled by the antics of the likes of Big Daddy, Johnny Saint and Giant Haystacks. Not to mention evil incarnate, Kendo Nagasaki (those of a certain age will remember those names).

It was only as I hit my teenage years that a niggling suspicion entered my mind: is what I’m seeing real? And as I probed deeper, I discovered what for me was a truly awful truth: it was all make-believe. They were faking it. The heroes and villains of wrestling were actors, not sportsmen. This was soap opera masquerading as sport.

I felt cheated and violated, and never, ever watched wrestling again.

Unfortunately, a much bigger sport did exactly the same thing to me many years later. As a boy, I was at every cricket match on Sundays watching our local boys regale us with their batting and bowling prowess. Over the years, I followed every World Cup tournament and every major test series. When I was a student in London, I would park myself at the historic Lord’s cricket ground for five full days when a great test series was happening.

That was then. It is now a decade since I watched a cricket match with any seriousness. In 2000, South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje and other players were implicated in a match-fixing scandal. They had been taking payments to influence the outcome of matches, in cahoots with bookmakers who would then place huge bets on matches. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Over a torrid few months, accusations and revelations flew thick and fast. Players and administrators from nearly all the major cricket-playing nations were implicated. A few were given life bans.

That was cricket’s moment of truth, and it was the chance to clean up the sport once and for all. But it was not done. Apart from a few cosmetic punishments, nothing of substance was done. Why? Because the amounts of money involved are colossal. Cricket commands manic audiences of billions and huge TV ratings in Asia, and provides a bonanza for advertisers, TV companies, commentators and administrators. No one really wants to stop the show. So cricket says tut-tut to every new revelation of match-fixing, does nothing much about it, and moves on.

And so suspicion and mistrust have shrouded the game ever since. It is impossible for me to watch a game, any game, of professional cricket without wondering what is really going on. So I don’t watch. I am not interested in manufactured entertainment on the sports field. I prefer to watch school-kids – at least they are trying to play the game.

Most recently, former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and his opening bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, were convicted and sentenced to jail terms in England for spot fixing in a test match at the same Lord’s ground last year. At long last, custodial sentences have been handed down. At last, some deterrent may exist for other players thinking of making some money on the side instead of playing the game to the best of their ability. Yet, these 3 are only part of a huge web of cheats.

There is a wider lesson here. If you can’t believe in the rules, the activity can’t be run. When rules are not followed, only the rule-breakers thrive. Honest strivers are shut out. The activity soon plunges into a farce, a sham, a fake and hollow entertainment with stunning last-ball crescendos and needle-edge finishes. Cricket is not yet at the level of the wrestling of the 1970s, but it will get there unless it gets its act together.

One day I hope to watch an international cricket match again. A proper one, where I believe it is a battle between genuine players, not cheats and sellouts.

Business in Kenya is not so different. Match-fixers and market riggers are allowed to prosper at the expense of those who build honest businesses that strive to do all the right things. The effect over the years is to drive out the good and elevate the bad. It is little wonder then that such few businesses are focused on the long-term sources of success: great products; warm service; pioneering business models; value for all. Why do that hard stuff, when you can just fix the game in your favour?

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