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Lt Col Muhammad Azam Khan Image Credit: Courtesy: ECB

Dubai: Cricket’s battle against corruption received strong support from the UAE, which has implemented strict measures to keep the game clean. It’s a pioneering move among Associate Nations. The appointment of Lt Col Muhammad Azam Khan as Head of the Security and Anti-Corruption Unit is part of the Emirates Cricket Board’s efforts to prevent unscrupulous elements from approaching cricketers to influence results.

Lt Col Khan feels prevention and education are key to keeping the players safe and stopping them from falling into the trap of match-fixers. “By nature, no one wants to be corrupt, and they are lured into corruption, which will cause embarrassment to themselves, their family and for their country,” he told Gulf News from Britain, where he is overseeing the England-South Africa series.

“Players are naive, and they don’t know how to get rid of the corrupt. Generally, this is someone close to them or close to cricket,” said Lt Col Khan, who has worked with the Pakistan Cricket Board and the International Cricket Council anti-corruption unit.

He is happy to see his efforts pay off. Now 99.99 per cent of the players are satisfied with the education process to root out corruption, he said. That’s the result of his four-point programme: prevention, disruption, investigation and prosecution. The main focus is on prevention, and that includes education and identifying the contacts.

Steady decline

“My first target was a group of 35 players who were in and out of the squad. Then I included the support staff and those who were directly involved with the team in the first few months — about 50 in total. Now, over 300 players have been educated, and that covers the under-19 men and women players and umpires, ground staff, curators and the venue managers,” Lt Col Khan said.

Now players are reporting approaches either through social media or other sources. “From 2020 to 2021, the early days, I used to get reports of five to seven approaches. Now I get maybe one approach. So the message has clearly gone out. At every tournament, one of our staff will be present, and most players have direct contact with me to get guidance,”

Talking about the need for associate countries like UAE to have an anti-corruption unit (ACU), Khan felt that the ICC education programme has ensured that international cricketers are aware of the dos and don’ts. Now the focus has shifted to Associate Nations and under-19 players.

Pressing need

“The most vulnerable are players from Asia, mainly Pakistan and India. The corruption targets are teams like UAE, Oman, Singapore, Hong Kong and Nepal. During the 2019 World Cup qualifiers, I was part of the ICC anti-corruption unit when some players were caught and suspended. Therefore there is a pressing need to have an anti-corruption officer with them. ECB chose me because of my background and experience in Pakistan. There was a time when most players approached were from Pakistan or India. As I am from the same culture, maybe they felt I am better qualified to handle it,” Lt Col Khan elaborated.

He now plans to visit clubs in the UAE and start the education process at a young age so that players would be aware by the time they graduate to a higher level.

“My one-line message to all is cricket is a gentleman’s game, so be fair and play fair. Respect yourself, respect your family, respect your country and more importantly, respect the game,” Lt Col Khan said.