West Indies Hedge Their Bets as ICC Lifts Cricket’s Gambling Sponsor Ban

West Indies Cricket

Credit: sportsphotographer.eu / bigstock

It’s not taken long for the first major cricketing nation to cash in on the decision of the game’s governing body to lift a near 20-year ban on gambling sponsorships.

The West Indies took to the wicket for their first test against Australia this week wearing a new kit – the logo of Asian betting firm dafabet clear for all to see.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) announced in May 2023 that it was ending the lengthy prohibition on gambling firms sponsoring the kits of teams under its jurisdiction – the West Indies are the first to take advantage of the rule-change.

Bowled Over

It’s a bold step from the Windies’ governors, to some extent, given that sports betting isn’t even legal on many of the Caribbean islands.

But the region’s connection to the gambling sector, which includes the rise of Curacao as a regulatory authority with, shall we say, ‘relaxed’ licensing requirements, cannot be under-played.

However, the ICC is confident that the lifting of their betting sponsor ban won’t have a harmful effect on cricket fans – nor will it hark to days gone by, in which the sport became embroiled in all manner of gambling gaffes, integrity issues and spot fixing scandals.

“The ICC takes all measures to prevent corruption in the sport and all international matches are staffed with anti-corruption officials,” a media statement from the governing body reads. “Betting companies are in no way involved in running the matches nor liaise closely with those running the game.”

Although not a kit sponsorship, Cricket Australia has long had an association with bet365 – a parliamentary inquiry there into the proliferation of online gambling sponsors in sport will almost certainly prevent that partnership from expanding.

The ECB, which runs the sport in England, Wales and Scotland, has so far resisted any temptation to lift their own unwritten ban on gambling partnerships on playing shirts; not that it stopped them from previously welcoming Betfair as their ‘official betting partner’.

The rule change brings with it other issues. Gambling is illegal and considered immoral in countries of largely Islamic faith, which was the reason why Mohammad Rizwan covered over a betting logo on his shirt while playing in the 2022 Pakistan Super League.

Despite gambling being illegal in Pakistan, operators are known to flaunt the rules by launching themselves as sports news outlets – hence why Rizwan wasn’t keen to promote the wares of Wolf777 News.

In India, Dream11 has sponsored the national team since 2023 – despite being a fantasy gaming platform, the operator is banned in numerous states in the country.

And at the 2023 Asia Cup, mostly illegal betting firm 1xBet set up a subsidiary company – 1xBat – to circumnavigate the rules and sponsor Sri Lanka.

It’s Just Not Cricket

The ICC originally introduced their ban in the early 2000s in the wake of high-profile gambling scandals.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the match fixing scandal that involved former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje. He admitted to fixing games after audio tape of him having illicit conversations with an illegal bookmaker was captured on a wire-tapped phone by Indian police, while later it was revealed he helped to ‘throw’ one game for £5,000 in cash and a leather jacket.

Of the games Cronje admitted to fixing, the South African admitted to nobbling a one-day series between his country and India in 2000 – unsurprisingly, he was banned from cricket for life.

He needed others to help him fix the games, naming Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams as co-conspirators. They were banned for four months apiece, while other international stars named by Cronje – including Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma – were handed lifetime bans.

That came in the years following gambling scandals that engulfed Australian cricket, which included the unthinkable: Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh betting on England to beat the Aussies at odds of 500/1 in running – a 1981 Ashes game in which the pair played. England went on to win, incredibly, and the duo somehow escaped punishment.

In 1994, the Aussies went on tour to Sri Lanka – with Shane Warne and Mark Taylor happy to turn journalists for an illegal Asian bookie known only as ‘John the Bookmaker’. They fed ‘John’ information on the pitch and team news in return for cash, but the Australian Cricket Board managed to cover up the scandal until 1998; at which point it was too late for the ICC to implement retrospective action.

In the year 2000, the ICC set up its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit – but by then the horse had already bolted.