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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 29, July 6, 2013

A Philosophical Reflection on Spot-Fixing

Sunday 7 July 2013

by Ashwin Jayanti

What did the players involved in the spot-fixing scandal do wrong? Did they betray public trust? Did you feel that the entertainment you were a spectator to was staged and not genuine? Have the rules of the game been violated? Have the players set a wrong example for the people watching the show? Is it a contemptible display of the greed of the players? Most importantly, why has this resulted in such a public outrage against the players and their acts?

Let us probe these issues further. For most spectators, watching a cricket match on TV is good entertainment at the end of the day. It is a common activity that folks engage in as a shared experience. My argument is that it shouldn’t matter to a spectator watching for entertainment whether a match is fixed or not (whether as a whole or in spot). For what consequences does this result in for the spectator? Is the fun from watching a game destroyed on knowing that it has been merely staged? If that were the case, there would be no takers for watching highlights or matches from yesteryear, for cricket aficionados do partake in these pleasures regardless of their knowledge of how these matches would end.

Could it be that we feel a disillusionment that comes from a distortion of reality? Regardless of our belief systems, we go about our everyday life with a certain sense of uncertainty, unpredictability, surprise, and vulnerability. A game, from this perspective, is a metaphor for life. Just as there are agents, families, structures, and stakeholders, there are players, teams, rules, and spectators. The rules of the game are implicit within the structure of the game, and the game unfolds to reveal the champion. When one finds out that all of life has been merely staged by the actors around her, one feels deceived and inevitably takes a very fatalistic view of the world. Although the rules of a game constrain the freedom of the players, there is sufficient scope for improvisation, transcendence of facticity, innovation of new styles that while conforming to the rules of the game, enable it to develop into something that is not fixed. A good player is someone who does exactly this—who shows us that we can transcend the boundaries of life regardless of how fast the ball is pacing at us or that we can hit the target regardless of how well it is being guarded by the security of a bat. Thus, watching a player play is like being a witness to an act of human free-will. And it is this that causes such disillusionment among the public when they hear of a match being fixed. A certain disillusionment comes from the distortion of our perception—that what we held to be purely a matter of the potentiality, talent, reflex, and agency of the player was something that has merely been directed, pre-determined, and staged. And most scornfully, staged for money.

Moreover, it would seem that the distortion of reality should affect the opponent just as much as the commentator or the spectator. Imagine a winning team, a high-scoring batsman, or a well-performed bowler being revoked of their respective achievements upon hearing the disconcerting fact that their opponents had been fixed to not play to their full potential. This disregards the talent displayed by these players under such instances of deviation. A game of cricket becomes interesting and entertaining when both the teams are equally good, thereby making it a tough contest. So there exists a justified presupposition that each member in the team would act in the best interest of the team in order to bring victory home. It is this conflict between equals that makes watching a game an entertaining spectacle, while news of a fixed match annihilates the tension in a close contest.

Another point to be noted is that spot-fixing does not render the game completely deterministic. A bowler may be party to a bet and bowl a loose delivery which could unintentionally, through pure chance or the inexperience of the batsman, result in a wicket. Interestingly, this could be in the best interest of the team and the team’s supporters, while at the same time, bring no money to the “fixed” player. Is this a wrongful act? Is match or spot-fixing only bad when a player is made to act against the interest of the team? What if a fixer offers money to a player commanding him to play his best—for example, to break the record for the fastest delivery bowled or the most number of sixes hit in an over? Does this come under the purview of match-fixing or is it a justifiable offer of reward? It is more plausible for the former to be viewed as a case of contemptible fixing when compared to the latter. Why could this be so? For one, the latter is in the shared interest of the entire team and is looked at as a bonus to push one’s potential to the limit; the former, on the other hand, is looked at as a bribe to limit one’s potential.

What disconcerts us the most, I feel, is the increasing awareness of the role that money plays in determining our actions. The awareness that money can also be used to manipulate people toward inefficiency (and acts of treason against their own teams), contrary to our prevalent (but contestable) neo-liberal belief that money rewards people to be more efficient. This disconcertedness is amplified, on the one hand, by our everyday experiences of angst at having to bribe officials to do their jobs and, on the other, by our increasing exposure to people who not only enjoy celebrity status as sportsmen but accept money to be less sincere in their work. This brings home the contemporary reality that money influences human actions and relations in all walks of life. It is this, more than any other factor, that fills us with contempt for the fixers and their protégés.

After the news of the fixing broke out as breaking news, one of the panelists in a debate being telecast on a news channel brought up the term “ecosystem” to refer to the way in which the format of IPL is much more vulnerable to fixing than test or one-day international formats of cricket. Here was an important point being made. However, I would endorse the use of the word “structure” rather than “ecosystem.” The rationale being that the use of the former is intended to remind us that this is something man-made and, in virtue of being so, changeable. These include structures such as the caste system, patriarchy, capitalism, biased education, religious fundamentalism, etc. Ecosystem, on the other hand, in a way suggests the structure to be something given to us, something to be preserved, or something non-malleable. Nevertheless, it is here clearly relevant to bring in the influence of the structure of IPL into how the game is determined.

In this context, IPL is to Indian cricket what privatisation is to the Indian economy (it is uncanny how IPL can also be expanded as the Indian Privatisation League). While, on the one hand, cricket fans across the country are protesting against match fixing in Indian cricket and charging the “fixed” players with betraying of public trust, there are people, the marginalised ones, the people from the lower classes and
the lower castes, who are being further marginalised by the economic reforms that enable corporations to buy off their land for a pittance in the name of SEZs and industrial townships. These marginalised ones are the spectators who are time and again witness to matches that are fixed between governments and multinational corporations on their own home pitches—which, like a trophy, is passed over to the highest bidder at the end of the match. The betrayal in their case is not of their entertainment but of their livelihoods. Not surprisingly, however, this is looked at as a virtue in the corporate realm: a successful business is one that maximises its profits.

So then why should these “fixed” players be charged with betrayal of public trust, while multinational corporations are encouraged to penetrate new markets? Aren’t these players, too, like those corporations, working to maximise their profits? It should be noted that in the case of corporate greed, the stakeholders are the stockholders who benefit from the successful pursuit of profit by these businesses. And this trickling down of wealth to the stockholders fogs out the social consequences of such pursuits of wealth. On the other hand, one is in no way benefited by the accumulation of wealth by these players, and so, can self-righteously charge them for greed. What this shows is that an economics that is based on the profit-motive creates a society where rationality is defined as the pursuit of self-interest which, in a capitalist economy, translates to the pursuit of money.

This analysis brings us to the question of how we, too, allow ourselves to be determined by our fetish for the accumulation of wealth. Don’t we allow ourselves to be fixed for money at certain instances? For example, don’t we betray our interests and take up jobs which only allure us by the pay they offer? Don’t we let our relationships be, to a certain extent, under the influence of money and the power that comes from it? Don’t we judge people by the amount of money they spend on us? Don’t we feel the need to spend money on others in order to show our care toward them? Don’t we betray our fellow humans by our self-centred pursuit of wealth? Adam Smith and his protégés would have no problem with all this for they would appeal to the invisible-hand argument, stating that a society as a whole is better off as a result of the unintended consequence of the pursuit of the individual’s self-interest when compared to when an individual intentionally works for that society’s betterment.

However, this would only work to isolate individuals from their teams and alienate them from participating in a collective action that strives toward common good, equality, and mutual trust. Thus, what we need is a game that is based on an economics that rewards people—regardless of their class, caste, gender, religion, or creed—for their teamwork, their selfless commitment, their humility, and their contribution to society. In other words, a game that emphasises on the results of intentional action aimed at the betterment of society as a whole. Only such a game could be the true metaphor of life as it should be.

The author is an M.Phil student at the Centre for Philosophy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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