At least that is how I would look at it if I were Shoaib Akhtar. There is simply no other way it can be said, the three member panel that adjudicated on Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif's guilt have treated Shoaib Akhtar unjustly in this instance.
By now, we have all heard of the sentences handed down to the two drug cheats. From the outset, I had very little doubt that these two were as guilty, as guilty could be. Moreover, after being given the option, the pair refused to have their B-samples retested. This, over and above all else, is the most damming evidence to date that both players knew exactly what they were taking and why it has been banned from practically every sport played on this planet.
However, I was surprised - bordering on shocked - to learn that Mohammad Asif had received a lesser sentence than Shoaib Akthar. To a reasonable person, this would seem totally inexplicable and unreasonable. Why should two players accused of exactly the same crime, at exactly the same time, be treated differently. Upon hearing this news, my mind raced back to the South African match-fixing debacle where Cronje and Herschelle Gibbs received two vastly different sentences, for exactly the same offence.
For mine, the reasons for the disparate sentences are feeble and contradictory. Intikhab Alam was a member of the doping panel and had this to say on Shoaib Akhtar:
"He [Shoaib] drinks alcohol, has an active sex life and he's been part of anti-doping awareness programmes. Shoaib has been around for the last ten years and the written statement that his spokesman gave about him taking dietary supplements and not consulting a doctor, shows he was negligent."and this on Mohammad Asif:
"We decided to ban him for a year because his English is not that good, he comes from a remote village where he would not have been educated on the dangers of drugs in sport and so he doesn't understand."Australians who smuggle drugs to Asian countries cannot claim innocence simply because they do not understand the language of a particular country. No matter what language you speak, everybody knows drugs are illegal and dealing or using them attracts harsh penalties. In real life and in sporting life. There should not be any if's or but's on this issue.
Hell, Asif didn't even have to know English to find out if a substance was banned. He could've handed the supplement to his team doctor and got the right information, in an instant. Further rubbishing this reasoning was a categorical statement from the PCB at the outset of this fracas, explaining that all players partake in mandatory and comprehensive drug-education programs. If this indeed was the reason for the leniency afforded to Asif, the entire Panel should hang their heads in shame. I am inclined to believe the real reason has more to do with the need of the Pakistani team to have Asif back in action, at the earliest.
We all know Shoaib Akhtar is no angel, even he would cringe at the thought. The bad-boy image is something he craves and goes to great lengths to perpetrate. However, that should never have been held against him in a situation such as this. For the Panel to consider the fact that he drinks or has sex is unequivocally unjust. Is Alam insinuating that being sexually active makes a player guilty be default? If Alam's conjugal life has a few shortcomings, he should seek counselling. He should not be condemning others for getting a bit more than he.
Both players should have received maximum penalties. However, thanks to the inconsistent signals emanating from the said Panel, Shoaib Akhtar should be feeling quite aggrieved at the minute. If I were in his place, I would be too. Both players were equally guilty of cheating and committing inexcusable crimes. There was no reason for their cases to be judged on different levels.
Drugs have no place in any sport. This was cricket's chance to send clear messages to all concerned. Instead, much like the South African handling the match-fixing scandal, the Pakistani Panel has proven itself to capable of only serving the national interest. It has nobody but itself to blame for all the scorn and disdain that will be heaped upon it after this atrocious decision. It is time that cricket administrators started to take the issue of drugs in cricket seriously. No self-respecting cricket fan wants to see cricket head the baseball way. At least, not I.
PS. You would think Akhtar would have at least attended the hearing in a suit. It is quite clear how seriously he was taking proceedings. (Photo courtesy of The Age)
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