The former captain of the Zimbabwe cricket team has described on social media how he was blackmailed by a gambling syndicate to manipulate a match after its members videoed him snorting cocaine.
Brendan Taylor, 35, did not go through with the group’s demands to “spot-fix” in international cricket matches. But his story offers a stark warning about how naïve athletes can be coerced into corruption by criminal gangs.
Spot-fixing describes the manipulation not of the final result, but of the minutiae of a match. In cricket, this could be the number of “no balls,” for example, the game’s equivalent of a “ball” in baseball.
The rise of internet betting has enabled gamblers to place bets on these small details, or spots, within a game.
Taylor says he was approached by an Indian “businessman” in October 2019. The unnamed figure wanted to discuss a potential sponsorship deal and the possible establishment of a T20 league (a quick-cricket format) in Zimbabwe.
The man told Taylor he would be paid US$15,000 to travel to India to discuss these ideas. Taylor said he was “wary” of the approach. But at the time, he hadn’t been paid for six months by Zimbabwe Cricket, the domestic governing body.
The Zimbabwe team was a force in international cricket in the 1980s and 1990s. But it has been in crisis since the mid-2000s, after some players openly opposed the regime of late dictator Robert Mugabe.
Following a government backlash, many of its finest players left the game, while Mugabe’s economic mismanagement gradually crippled the nation’s economy. Players have been sporadically fighting Zimbabwe Cricket, which critics say is a tool of the government, over politics and payments ever since.
And there are few prettier sights to a match-fixing syndicate than a badly remunerated top-level sportsman.
Taylor made the trip, but his apprehensions were allayed when discussions with the businessman and his associates were restricted to pre-agreed topics of commercial partnerships and the T20 league.
On the last night, he was taken for a celebratory dinner, which involved cocaine use, and Taylor partook.
The next morning, he says the same men stormed into his hotel room and showed him a video taken of him snorting cocaine. They said the video would be made public unless he agreed to spot fix.
“I was cornered. And with six of these individuals in my hotel room, I was scared for my own safety,” Taylor wrote. “I’d fallen for it. I’d willingly walked into a situation that has changed my life forever.”
Taylor said he accepted the $15,000, which he was told was now a “deposit” for spot-fixing. He would be paid a further $20,000 once he had finished the job. He says he accepted the money so he could get out of India.
I would like to place on record that I have never been involved in any form of match-fixing. I may be many things, but I am not a cheat,” added Taylor, who announced his retirement from international cricket last year.
Four months after the incident, he reported it to the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s world governing body.
Despite choosing not to comply with the syndicate’s demands, he still faces sanctions because the ICC’s anti-corruption code states all match-fixing approaches must be reported “without unnecessary delay.”
Taylor says the incident has severely impacted his mental and physical health, resulting a doctor prescribing the anti-psychotic drug amitriptyline. He is seeking help for issues with substance abuse.
“I want to be a better version of myself,” he said.
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