ICC's anti corruption chief talks about ACU, fight against corruption in sport, educating players, and much more
Q. Thanks a lot for your time. First of all, the ACU is a world leader in the fight against corruption in sport. What makes it a world leader?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, first of all, it’s not something we would necessarily say on our own behalf, but I must say it is very pleasing to quite often hear that being said by others, particularly by others from different sports who have a similar anti‑corruption responsibility as we do, and in respect of whom they often model their approaches on the approach that we take. So if it is true that we are leaders in the world of anti‑corruption in sport, I think there are a number of factors.
First of all, when the unit was created 15 years ago, and for the first 10 years of its existence, it was led by Lord (Paul) Condon, and I think he did excellent work and created a wonderful platform for the rest of us who would follow him to build upon. So, I think that’s one reason.
I think the other reason is that we are supported by a wonderful team within the ICC. We have a tremendous media team; we have a tremendous legal team; and we get very good support from the main board itself. And added to that, we have, I think, very important partnerships with people in law enforcement, people in other sports, as I’ve mentioned, and people, for example, in the legitimate world of betting. So, I think working together as a team, allied to the fact that we’re now not just any longer an international unit, but we have Anti-Corruption Units in the member boards of the ICC. All of this I think puts us in a very healthy position.
Q. What is the composition and expertise in the ACU and are these resources enough to tackle the problem?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, people in charge of teams can always seek more resources. I think the question is do we have reasonable resources, and I have to commend the ICC Board for responding to any requests that we make.
So the composition of our team is very wide‑ranging. We have people experienced in investigation, people experienced in the analysis of information to assist investigations, and people very practiced in delivering education and in the whole world of prevention. So, we have a very wide‑ranging team, supported by many others with a whole variety of skills, which puts us in a very good position, I think, to counter the threat of corruption in cricket.
Q. One of the criticisms of the ACU is it has not prosecuted enough players since its inception in 2000. How do you defend the ACU?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, you know, my background is policing, and since time immemorial, the creation of formalised policing, prevention has always been much more important than detection. I was very pleased at the recent review we had of the work of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit, placed great emphasis on the fact that the main planks of our activity are prevention, disruption, and only then investigation and prosecution, in that order of priority. And I think that order of priority is absolutely right.
So we shouldn’t be judged by the number of prosecutions which have been engaged in. We should be judged by the level of prevention we are able to bring to bear, and I think that’s a very positive story.
Q. The ACU is accused of focusing more on education but really little on investigation. Is this a fair comment?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: I think education of players, particularly young players, is absolutely crucial. You know, there was an international sports security body created in Doha a few years ago, and while they were concentrating specifically on physical security at venues for big sporting events, I from the floor raised the question of corruption and how insidious that can be, and while frankly it can often be relatively easy to ensure good security, it’s just as important for any sport to make sure they deal with the threat of corruption.
So, in that whole area, and I spoke to a number of international athletes and tennis players at that event, and they had never experienced in their careers the whole question of corruption and the whole question of being educated and how to recognise it and what to do if it should raise its ugly head. So I think education is very important for players, particularly young players, to make them aware of the evil intent of people out there who would seek to have them drawn into their clutches and who would seek to corrupt them. Education is a very important part of prevention.
Q. Why doesn’t the ACU have powers of a police force, and how does it affect its operation?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, we have only the powers that the ICC Board vest upon us, and we don’t want the powers of a police force.
Going back to Lord Condon, when he created the unit 15 years ago, he talked of this unit being the players’ friend, and that’s what I would still want this unit very much to be, the players’ friend. In the education programme in the recent World Cup earlier this year, I emphasised that point very strongly, that we were their Anti-Corruption Unit, we were there to protect them. So, I think that’s very important to keep emphasising.
Q. We hear from a lot of people that they share information with the ACU, but the ACU doesn’t conduct investigation or charge the accused player. Is that right?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, we do get a lot of information shared with us, and we want to increase that flow. We certainly don’t want to turn information away. We don’t want to put people off providing us with information. But information comes in all forms. Sometimes, quite frankly, it can be little more than tittle‑tattle and gossip.
Every piece of information we get goes into our database as compared with what we already have in that database, and even if at that time it doesn’t help further any investigation, who knows in the future what other pieces may be added to that particular piece of information.
So, I certainly want to keep encouraging people to provide us with all the information that they can, and I would want to take this opportunity to assure them that we do not ignore any piece of information.
Of course, right at the other end of the spectrum, if people are to be charged, then they must be charged based only on evidence. So receiving information is one thing, but there is a very lengthy process before that information becomes intelligence, before that becomes intelligence which we can exploit, before that becomes evidence, which we can place before a tribunal or indeed a court of law through our partners in law enforcement.
Q. There’s a view that because the ACU doesn’t have cricket expertise or knowledge, it can’t understand how, when and where the players are underperforming in a match situation. How do you respond to that?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, it’s interesting, and I’ve heard that said by some former players, who are these guys, are they all retired cops, why don’t you have players, recently retired players. And of course we do use players, current players and retired players, very much in our education programme. So, I understand where the question arises, but I would like to assure people that the team that I have, the team that I’m proud to work with, actually does have cricket knowledge and cricket expertise and pretty much knows the score.
But sometimes when you see something bizarre happening, the very best and most professional of sportspeople can make mistakes, and sometimes they’re innocent mistakes. So, sometimes just because you see something bizarre happening, it’s not immediately obvious that that person has done it deliberately or is in any way deliberately underperforming.
Again, that whole question of evidence building and evidence gathering has to surround something which may look bizarre on the field of play before it can become actionable in any sense or even something that has to be put to an individual player for their response to it.
Q. Does the ACU have resources of partnerships or expertise to monitor illegal betting patterns? How important is it to keep an eye on illegal betting?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: I think it’s very important, and it’s a matter of public record that we secure the services of Sportradar, and they do a very good job for us monitoring all games which we have responsibility for. Sometimes, if we have reason to believe that something might be being planned, we call them in in a proactive way and ask them to pay particular emphasis to a given game, so we use Sportradar.
As to our colleagues in Cricket Australia and indeed the ECB, we work very closely with them to make sure that together we get the very best product that Sportradar can provide us, and it’s very valuable. It’s very important for us to keep good relationships with the legitimate betting world. We have Memoranda of Understanding with them, so that any suspicious spike in betting is immediately spotted by them and reported back to us. Very important element of the work in which we are engaged.
Q. Now a hypothetical question: Will the ACU let the match go ahead if it is convinced that the game is fixed?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Now, you use the expression if we are convinced that a game, which is up and coming, is fixed. It’s very rarely the case that we would be convinced. It can be the case that we have some intelligence to suggest that something may be amiss, and we go through a whole range of decision‑making processes in such an event.
In some instances it may be that we call both teams together to say, look, we don’t suspect you, but we have received some information that something may be amiss in this game. We want you being aware of that, to be doubly conscious of any attempts to approach you to ask you to do anything, or with hindsight having been given this message, if there were previous approaches that you didn’t think suspicious but now might be in the light of what we are saying to you, come to us.
If it went much further than that, we have a process in being and a process we drew up before the last World Cup and did not, thankfully, have to bring it into being, but we would bring together a crisis management team to discuss the weight of the intelligence and what we should actually do about it, including the organisers of the particular event or tournament, the representatives of the teams involved, and it would be a very serious step to actually call off a game in advance. We would have to be in a very strong position and in position of very, very strong intelligence tending towards evidence that that was the case.
What we would do as an alternative to that, of course, is to pay particular attention to everything that’s happening throughout such a game or event and try to build the evidence and build it to a point where that evidence can be placed before a tribunal or indeed before a court of law.
Q. The ACU recently underwent a review. Can you please share with us salient features of that review and how these will make the ACU a more effective entity?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: I mean, this was a very important review, and one of the reasons for its importance was to look at the relationship between the ACU and international cricket and the anti‑corruption efforts of individual member boards of the ICC and how we must work much more closely together.
So, that review came up with a whole series of recommendations, some involving restructuring of the whole anti‑corruption effort. Some involving the advertising and recruitment of new individuals, including to give us a much stronger analytical capability, some recommendations in relation to technical equipment that we can use, processes that we might use, a review, for example, of our whole media communications strategy, a whole range of recommendations, which have been accepted in their entirety by the ICC Board, which we’re now in the process of implementing, and we have a team working on that implementation plan.
I have no doubt that those are very good recommendations and will put us in an even stronger position going forward to deal with corruption right across all levels of cricket, not just internationally, but throughout the domestic games, as well.
Q. You recently had a workshop in Dubai which was attended by the member countries, ACU representatives, as well. What was the objectives and what did you achieve out of this workshop?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: The objective of our recent workshop was to bring together the anti‑corruption elements in all 10 major Test‑playing cricket nations, and working together with the ACU at the center to examine the recommendations of the review report to which I referred earlier, to look at how we can best work together going forward to implement those recommendations, and to make sure that right across cricket.
Our efforts are focused and our efforts are combined together for the collective good, and to ensure collectively that we really keep cricket clean, because really that was the banner message of the review report: Keep cricket clean. And that’s what we’re all determined to do, here at the center, through the ACU at international level, and the 10 individual member boards, those responsible for anti‑corruption. It was a tremendously positive workshop, and I’m very proud to have colleagues right across the game of cricket all working together in this anti‑corruption effort.
Q. Why does the ACU have a policy of not commenting on matters relating to ACU or its investigations?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, there are very good reasons as to why we shouldn’t comment on a specific ongoing investigation, particularly one that is quite possibly or even probably going to end up being considered by a tribunal or a court of law. There are very good reasons for that.
But on the wider front, I think in the past there have been occasions when we could and should have said more to the press, and that’s something this specific review recommendation in terms of an entire new assessment of our media communications strategy is under way now. I think we will find opportunities in the future to be able to convey more to the press than we perhaps have done in the past. There have been very good reasons for that, but it is time to conduct that review, and hopefully we can find ourselves in a position to say more in the future.
Q. The ACU is criticised for not doing enough to curb corruption in cricket. How do you counter this view?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, I think that’s an ill‑founded allegation, if such were to be made. I think the colleagues that I’m proud to have work tremendously hard. They’re tremendously dedicated, and as I’ve indicated in earlier answers, not just at the centre here at headquarters in Dubai dealing with international cricket, but right throughout the game.
I think in terms of the partnerships we have with law enforcement agencies, with the legitimate betting industry, the backup we have from our legal department, the support we get from the board and from the boards of individual member countries of the ICC, I think tremendous positive story to be told in terms of all that’s being done to counter the spectre of corruption within our wonderful game of cricket.
Q. Who are the corruptors in cricket and how do the ICC and its members plan to beat them?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, one thing I have no doubt about is that they are most evil. These are organised criminals. These are members of organised criminal gangs across the world, and that was brought home very evidently in our preparations for the World Cup.
When the Australian federal police, because these are organised criminals, were very willing to engage in information sharing Memoranda of Understanding with us, as were New Zealand police, as were the individual state police organisations throughout Australia, and we have similar MOUs about to be signed with the National Crime Agency in the UK, with investigative authorities in India and South Africa, and the fact that we work in close collaboration with those investigative authorities is evident that they indeed recognise that these corruptors are members of organised criminal gangs right across the world and must be attacked globally in that joint effort and through those joint partnerships that I’ve described.
Q. It is said that corruption will never be eradicated. Do you share this view?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: Well, to be honest, I would look on that question as similar to the question, will ill health ever be eradicated? Will crime ever be eradicated? And I think the frank answer has to be never totally and absolutely eradicated. But that doesn’t stop us working the very hardest that we can, making the greatest effort that we can to eradicate the game as far as is humanly possible to do.
Will humans err and go wrong? Of course they will. So, if you ask me an honest question, which you have, I’ll give you the honest answer that we will never totally, utterly and absolutely eradicate corruption from the game, but we can make the game a very difficult environment for those who would seek to bring corruption to bear.
Q. How would you reassure cricket fans across the world that what they see live is natural and that the players are giving their 100 per cent in the quest for victory?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: I mean, in the education package before the World Cup that we had earlier this year, the first thing I did was congratulate the players. How wonderful to be given a God‑given talent, to be able to represent your country in a wonderful tournament like the World Cup. When people have that God‑given talent and when they work so hard to enhance that talent and practice day in and day out, to keep that enhanced, I think I can assure the watching world that that international cricketers want no more than to be engaged in a game that’s a fair game and a fair test of their skill against the opposition.
I would like to assure the watching fans, as well, that we in anti‑corruption in cricket are doing everything that’s humanly possible to eradicate the possibility of corruption from the game. So, I think that they can watch with confidence that the players are giving of their best and are determined to give of their best.
If any player falls short from that, the situation is such that we will be there, we will identify it and we will deal with it. So the fans, I think, can have that very strong level of reassurance that indeed the game of cricket is clean.
Q. The three Pakistan players are now available to play international cricket. How big a threat are they for the image and reputation of cricket, considering their past?
SIR RONNIE FLANAGAN: You know, when you ask me that question, I think back to the times when I was a chief constable in Northern Ireland, and when we had the peace process going forward.
For example, part of that peace process was that prisoners were released earlier than they might have been, and I was often asked, in a sense, slightly similar questions. My answer was always: I answer that from a personal point of view and from a professional point of view. In those days, my professional responsibility was to bring people into the criminal justice system, and it was the responsibility of other elements of that system to deal with them. And it’s just like that in cricket.
My professional responsibility as chairman of the Anti-Corruption Unit is to bring people to justice if they engage in matters of corruption. What actually happens to them thereafter has to be a matter for an independent tribunal, if it’s internal to cricket, or indeed if that case of the three Pakistan players, a matter for courts of law, as well.
So, these three players you mentioned have been dealt with. They’ve been punished. They’ve met their punishment. It’s now a matter, I think, for their home board to decide whether they should ever grace an international cricket team again.
That’s not just a question of ability, that’s a question of their remorse, their realisation of how wrong their behavior was, and their willingness to use that negative experience of theirs in education programme, so there are a whole range of elements in the decision‑making process.
So, I can think one thing personally, but I mustn’t ever let what I think personally prevent the professional discharge of my responsibility, and my responsibility was to bring those players to justice, and they were brought to justice.
What happens to them thereafter, I think is very much a matter for their own home board, first of all, and I know they are going through a rigorous rehabilitation programme, and I will watch with interest to see the results of that programme.