Politicking in the game of cricket

These are the very first words that I have thumped into my computer for the year 2009. The other day while having one of my customary chats with a cricket insider he said “What cricket gave us in 2008 was not awe inspiring. Yes, we beat India, England and won the Asia Cup, but at the same time we came up with two of our worst performances in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. However without just dwelling upon it we must dive into the reasons for it and try to put all the wrong things into the right ones”. I think these were the most far-reaching words because they came from the bottom of the heart of a person who really cares for the game in our country. While he was with the establishment he was a man who was not hesitant to call a spade a spade or fight evil if it had to be done.

He has one unflagging theory. He is of the view that the very sports law that was introduced at one juncture to stop sports driving down the wrong lane at one time of our modern history has boomeranged on us in a very unforgiving manner. He says “It was initially introduced to curb miscreants trying to exploit sports. Thus, it gave the final authority to a politician to put the train back on track and see to it that it functions in the very transparent and silky way that it should. But what has happened? Most of Sri Lanka’s sports have become political stools that are meant to prop certain political stooges who otherwise would not have a leg to stand on”.

While I was rather intrigued he went on “The best example of political interference in sport is the Arjuna Ranatunga saga. It is a classic case of making a wrong move for political gain. There were two pluses working for Arjuna. One was he was born into a politically inclined family and the other he was a damn good cricketer, for that matter one of the best that we have ever produced. Both these ingredients put together formed a very lethal force.

“His ambitions began at a very tender age. The way he came into the final eleven for the first Test as an unknown quantity over the more established and more experienced Anura Ranasinghe is still a subject to argue on. Then from that point onwards how he exploited the situation to his advantage is known history within cricket circles.”

My cricket clock also began to tick, but I kept my silence because at the opposite end there was a man who was speaking something that was worth listening to and digesting. The former cricketer continued “Nevertheless Arjuna had a good cricket head above his shoulders. He was shrewd, determined and had the ability to take politically correct decisions that boosted his popularity. However on the field he made no friends, but only built up tools that took him and his ego to the place that he intended to.

“Then while he was the captain he not only manoeuvered happenings on the field, but also saw to it that he was building up an afterlife in cricket administration and the first act in that direction was to see that his brother Dhammika becoming the Chief Executive Officer of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka. For this he forged a friendship with amiable Thilanga Sumathipala and the then powerful Sports Minister S.B. Dissanayake. Ironically this was the move that finally went politically wrong for him.”

The topic was getting hotter and I was becoming an addict to his narration. “The choice of Sumathipala as his ally was Ranatunga’s biggest mistake. Sumathipala on his own was a very strong-headed person who liked to see things done the way he preferred. When Sumathipala found that Ranatunga and Co had their own agenda and he had another, they had to part ways at the expense of the elder brother’s job. The two allies became like the families of Romeo and Juliet and none would cross the others path in spite of wielding the same old bat.

“Ranatunga could not match the Sumathipala pennies. That saw Ranatunga being relegated to the cricketing wilderness, at least on the surface. While Sumathipala went to great lengths to keep Ranatunga or any of his subsequent allies at bay, the Sumathipala administration also fell into eternal pitfalls through backstage manipulations.

“Knowing that the only way that he could counter the Sumathipala pennies was political clout, Ranatunge since his retirement from the batting crease turned to his family profession and came with a huge wave of public support to parliament as the Kotte member under the Chandrika Bandaranaike government in 2001. At that point many thought that he would be given the reins of the Sports Ministry, but it was not to be. Then there were many Interim Committees, but, Ranatunga’s name was not proposed to be at the helm for reasons better known to those in political power. But, Ranatunga patiently waited for his day. Then in the most unsuspecting moment when his vote in parliament was that much crucial he played his card and drove into the Maitland Place citadel as the chairman of the SLC Interim Committee. It took so long a story for me tell that it was not cricket that brought Ranatunga on to that pedestal, but a political manoeuvere. But now that he is moved out still it is political bickering that has kept the most professional sport in the country headless and with a politically competent authority whose cricket knowledge is very questionable.”
He was also of the view that the only way that we could pull out of this mire is to hand over the game to a non-political board of directors who would then in turn hand it over to relevant administrators to run it as a business organization which is a tax-paying entity. But, it was not possible at this juncture because now the politicos know the taste of the pie and would always want more.

Just a minute Minister
Now you have come with a new ruse saying that you have obtained cabinet approval to appoint a committee of people who are answerable to you to run the monetary affairs of Sri Lanka Cricket.
Just let us get some things very clear and out of the way. Who are these people who are going to sit on top of cricketing decisions where they have a monetary value.

Once again they will be appointed by a politician – that is you and they would be people who are in the good books of you and the final authority on any dispute you will be the final authority. This means once again it will be politics ruling over cricket.

Cricket must be taken out of the sports law or this out of date law should be repealed altogether.
Number two is that for the past few years it has been Interim Committees and they too have comprised people who play the correct political tune. So if they play the correct political tune why can not they who are supposed to be good private administrators be handed over the reins of cricket? If you think that if Name ‘A or B’ is not capable of running Sri Lanka Cricket the way it should be run without corruption, please do not give him the responsibility!

When these turns are made for the most professional game in Sri Lanka that should be run like any other international organisation, we automatically tend to think there is some thing amiss and you are only using the SLC administrative positions only as a political tool.

Please remember cricket is one of the last good things that we are left with even internationally. So far politics has done enough harm to it. At least now let it go. This is not like any other sports body in the country as you suggested the other day. Cricket is a revenue earning game unlike any other and it should be run like a business conglomerate which comprises a group of people who are above board.
Please give a minutes thought to this.

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