Battle with bookies in Lanka extends to prostitutes

Published: Sunday, September 22, 2002, 20:12 [IST]
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Colombo: Elite police units deployed to guard the teams taking part in the ongoing Champions Trophy tournament have come up with an unexpected foe - prostitutes - in addition to crooked players and bookies. Police said on Sunday that they were battling to keep women away from the rooms of cricket players from the 10 Test playing nations as well as Holland and Kenya, but some of the cricketers were getting wise to police tactics. The police lodged a formal complaint with the International Cricket Council (ICC) last week after three women were found in the rooms of West Indies manager Ricky Skerritt and West Indies computer operator, Garfield Smith. "We are not making a moral judgement but are simply trying to enforce the 'access control' guidelines issued to us by the cricket authorities," a top police official said. He said one of the women found in the company of the West Indian players was a daughter of a former Sri Lanka police chief. Another girl was a 17-year-old student. Police said the women had been in the rooms of the two West Indians with their consent, but the authorities have begun investigating if the three women had criminal records or were linked to bookies. Police said some of the players were leaving their hotel to sidestep the tight security at the deluxe Taj Samudra where plain-clothed policemen have been deployed to check on those meeting the cricketers. The ICC sought police protection for the Champions Trophy tournament which started on September 12 and is due to continue till the end of the month not so much to protect players, but to make sure they don't get up to dirty tricks. The 'Sunday Leader' newspaper said players were seen trying to pick up women at the Taj Samudra and even two women reporters had been propositioned by unnamed players in the hotel lobby. More than 300 plain-clothed police are being deployed for the largely covert operations during the tournament, officials said. This is in addition to uniformed police for usual crowd control at match venues in the capital. Banning mobile phones for cricketers at the match venues and at the team hotel has become standard practice, but the surveillance was extended to the players' car park, the grandstand and even during practice at nets. But the players were getting wise to the police tactics and some were slipping out of the team hotel, police said. Police had deployed an elaborate screening operation before the tournament got underway with hotel staff checked to establish if they had any links with bookies. In previous years when games were hosted amid the threat of Tamil Tiger suicide bombings, the players were accorded security that is generally reserved for visiting heads of state. However, this time the focus is on keeping the players under check as fears of bombings receded with the government and Tamil Tiger rebels entering into a ceasefire since February. "Gambling on cricket has got so much out of hand that bookies take bets on how many players wear a certain type of sunglasses at the opening of a game," a police officer said at the start of the tournament. The Pakistan-Sri Lanka match, which was won by the host team by eight wickets was under review by the ICC to establish if there was any fixing, but later the Pakistanis were cleared of wrongdoing. Two Sri Lankan players, former skipper Arjuna Ranatunga and his deputy Aravinda de Silva have been accused - and cleared - of match-fixing charges by a probe team, which cited "inadequate and untested" evidence against them. The allegations against the two Sri Lankan players were contained in a report by India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had looked into charges against players in that country last year.

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