Sri Lanka Cricket: ‘Clean Suit Empty Pockets’

l by Gamini Weerakoone

(December 11, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In 1996 Sri Lankans were proclaimed the World Champions of Cricket when that buccaneering captain Arjuna Ranatunga lifted the World Cup from the dazzling Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at the Gaddafi Stadium after thrashing the Australians who were considered to be invincible, in a bruising battle.
It was the greatest achievement for this little island in sports and perhaps in any other human endeavour since Independence. The next day Sri Lankans, diminutive as they are, walked tall with their heads held high in the cricketing nations of the world.
Sad caricatures
2011, fifteen years later the successors of this conquering band of heroes are sad caricatures—- ‘in clean suits and empty pockets’—- as the Sri Lankan saying goes. Sad caricatures, because they have not been able to emulate their predecessors; ‘Empty pockets’ because they have not been paid by their masters, Sri Lankan Cricket, since the last World Cup series. The players are certainly not to blame. In these days of highly professionalised cricket with nary a day off the field we cannot expect those who depend on their livelihood for cricket to perform shramadana. We will refrain from going into the demoralising effects on the players, their spirit and unity, consequent to decisions of Sri Lanka Cricket and their lord and master.
Non- payment of dues to cricketers has attracted even the attention of the BBC. On December 4 it was reported that about 100 contract players had not been paid their salaries since Sri Lanka co-hosted the World Cup tournament with India and Bangladesh. Officials have stated that payment would be made as soon as dues from the International Cricket Council (ICC) have been received. Sri Lanka Cricket, it is reported, still owes $18.1 million to Chinese contractors who built the Sooriyawewa stadium. While it will be good if Sri Lankan players will receive nine months of dues that have been held back, as promised to skipper Dilshan (according to media reports from South Africa) before the First Test, we only hope that this pledge is not one of the ‘glorious uncertainties of cricket’.
In the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) report presented recently to parliament by its Chairman, Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera, it was stated that Sri Lanka Cricket came on top of the list on corruption.
COPE gives SLC top billing in corruption
In the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) report presented recently to parliament by its Chairman, Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera, it was stated that Sri Lanka Cricket came on top of the list on corruption.
The SLC budget allocation of Rs 3.3 billion for the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium at Sooriyawewa ended up devouring Rs 7.2 billion. The Sports Ministry had requested the Treasury for a $ 1 billion loan, press reports said.
Sri Lanka Cricket, it has been said has a Rs 3 billion hole in its budget sheet and there should be accountability, transparency on how business was conducted if there is to be any credibility not only among officials who ran its affairs but also the prominent politicians who hogged the space before TV cameras on ceremonial occasions. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa were at the forefront, conveying they were directing/supervising the construction activities of the these cricket stadiums, particularly at Sooriyawewa. The public would expect responsibility to be taken by them for transparency and accountability for the projects.
Punchihewa a contrast
A refreshing contrast to all this is the performance of former Sri Lankan Coca Cola boss Ana Punchihewa who was vice-president of cricket administration under the late Gamini Dissanayake and after his death headed the cricket board. He launched a plan to be the best cricketing nation by 2000 by improving various aspects of the game. At the commencement he did not even have funds to hire Australian coach Dave Whatmore and physiotherapist Contouri and requested Sri Lankan representative in Australia Dr.Quintus De Zilwa to raise $ 100,000. Dr. Silva after much efforts got it from the Australian Cricket Board as advance payments to Sri Lanka for the impending Australian tour and later raised another $ 100,000 from Sri Lankans in Australia.
Punchihewa’s pledge was to make Sri Lanka the foremost cricketing nation by 2000 but much before that he achieved it— we won the World Cup in 1996! The reward for his labours was that a few days after winning the World Cup he lost the Chairmanship of the Sri Lanka Board of Cricket by a mere three votes! He went out gracefully as a gentleman. Does Sri Lankan cricket have such gentlemen anymore?
Core of all the rot
A national consensus has been slowly in the making that at the core of all things destructive are politicians and political institutions. Sri Lankan cricket is perhaps the best example of how we can be on the top of the world but in a comparatively short time be reduced to international nobodies.
Space does not permit us to detail on how independent various sports governing bodies were before they came under the Sports Law of 1973 which had made the Minister of Sports a Super Lord or Warlord of any sport played in the country. He could appoint or dismiss any governing body of any sport, appoint interim committees, dissolve them, appoint presidents or chairmen of these bodies. The national teams selected by these bodies—particularly when foreign tours were impending— were subject to his approval and changes could be made according to his will and pleasure and whatever contrary reasons were adduced they would be of no avail. That has been the plight of cricket too in this country after the glorious days of 1996. Perhaps, the law was not at fault.It was the misuse of the law by ministers.
A gem in the dark recess
Former Minister Chandrasiri Bandara Ratnayake was a gem of ‘purest ray serene’ when he declared at a press conference shortly after his appointment that Sri Lanka Cricket is the ‘Third most corrupt institution in the country’ and promised to revamp the way it is administered even if it meant replacing incumbent members. He promised he would replace the incumbent committee in a few weeks (after the press conference) but well wishers and honest observers of the political scene were dumbfounded when the outspoken Ratnayake was removed from the post of Sports Minister in a few weeks. That dashed hopes for the re-birth of Sri Lankan cricket. Sri Lankans are politically matured enough to know who could have removed a minister in that fashion. They know it goes to the very core of the rot of the Sri Lankan body politic.
Lording over all
Today’s form of centralised government with the Executive President as head, his siblings holding key posts in most branches of government and the parliament subservient to them, the decisions made on Sri Lanka cricket or any other matters of governance, private or public will be decided on by them. The people in this so called Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka should at least realise that.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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