On July 1, the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) went to the polls. And, probably got the decision it deserves.
The run-up to the elections was, to say the least, ruthlessly fought in the hinterlands of the sport; in the district Leagues which, every two years, gets the opportunity to kick a few butts.
The Football poll, indeed, took the proportion of an inverted soap opera.
To understand the tragic-comedy, one needs to go back a year or two.
The then President Ranjith Rodrigo was compelled to step down due to stipulations in the Sports Law that permitted only 2 successive terms.
He then conjured the oracle of planting a President of his choice, to hold the seat for him until he could return to the throne.
The person he picked was his confidant, the FFSL CEO at the time and former Sri Lanka Captain, Anura De Silva.
The reluctant candidate swept the boards under the orchestration of his guru, thwarting the valiant efforts of a former FFSL Supremo who fielded a hastily assembled team led by another former Sri Lanka Captain, Rumy Packeer Ally.
Having installed Anura De Silva in office, Rodrigo apportioned to himself the Finance and Media Chairmanships.
For 2 long years, De Silva danced to Rodrigo’s tune, enjoying the largesse of office and touring the world. It is not unfair to record that it was a period in which very little happened, except for Rodrigo grandstanding at Football House.
President De Silva followed meekly. In January 2017, De Silva visited Japan on the invitation of JFA, accompanied by his perennial travelling companion, Rodrigo.
The bombshell came soon after they returned to Paradise.
One salubrious January morning, De Silva announced he intended standing for re-election, boldly renouncing the symbiotic relationship he had with his friend.
Another Rodrigo protégé, U.L. Jaswar, who was parachuted into the CEO seat, superimposing his authority on the hapless S.G. Balendra Anthony, quickly aligned himself with the incumbent President.
Rodrigo managed to retain the support of most ExCo Members who felt that De Silva had usurped his caretaker role as head of FFSL.
Six atrocious months followed. Into that cauldron entered the Supremo of old who seized the opportunity of misplaced loyalties.
The battle was played out in full force, with the two gladiators spewing more money than Football usually attracts.
Apart from the 2 principal groups, 2 other marginal factions emerged but, soon fizzled out.
The genial giant Manilal Fernando played his cards close to his chest, drawing anti-Rodrigo forces together to assemble a potent challenge to the supremely confident Rodrigo.
In fact, Fernando took the unprecedented step of issuing an open letter, castigating the latter in no uncertain terms.
The election of office bearers held under the watchful eyes of Sports Ministry officials, with FIFA and AFC representatives flown in for good measure, drew Football administrators from 62 Leagues islandwide.
After the usual formalities that precede a Football Congress, the stage was set for the Elections; a secret ballot preferred over an open vote, which the De Silva faction threatened to demand from the delegates, some of whom had slept over the previous night in either camp.
When the votes were first counted for the post of President, De Silva stole the thunder, polling 104 against 79 for his contender!
Rodrigo withdrew his team and conceded defeat, citing vote-buying from the Northern and Eastern Leagues.
The rest, as they say, is history.
De Silva led his triumphant team the short distance to Football House.
With him went U.L. Jaswar who moved from a maligned CEO to an uncontested Secretary General (SG).
The jockeying for positions followed.
Interestingly, the CEO position has not been filled, a move obviously dictated by the new SG who knows only too well the constitutional nightmare (FFSL Constitution Article 17 – B), that the CEO creates for an SG.
The Football Supremo watching from the wings must be a very satisfied man.
He will watch and wait for now, with his contingent within the FFSL ExCo playing second fiddle under a President who, until very recently, worked hand in glove with Rodrigo to undermine and subjugate all that the old grandmaster had resolutely created over his long sojourn at Football House.
But the buzz these days at Football House is not about Football in particular.
What is keeping all awake at night is a fraud estimated at over Rs 28 million, which is claimed to have been spirited away by the FFSL Finance Director, under the very noses of the people engrossed with elections.
Amazingly, this is not the first time that the FFSL has been taken to the cleaners.
Only a few years ago, a similar rash of sinister transactions cleaned out a sum of startling proportions.
Then President Rodrigo made a statement to the FCID, but the investigation has dragged on with injunctions and stay orders preventing legal proceedings, and an Auditor General’s report left in the larder, with no proper inquiry held by either the FFSL or the Sports Ministry.
Indicative of such frivolity is a payment of approximately Rs 400,000 to the former CEO (present SG) days before the election, for services which he himself described as complimentary.
The monitoring VP at the time, brought this anomaly to the notice of the Sports Ministry, but to no avail.
Even more imaginative is the canard that a monthly stipend was negotiated as a part of a consultancy agreement nicely hatched by Rodrigo and De Silva, to safeguard the Presidency.
Both gentlemen have studiously avoided commenting on the matter, but those in the know say that it looks like a page from the Blatter diaries!
Sadly, it seems that the Minister of Sports is oblivious to all these developments.
Several representations made by senior FFSL members were set aside by the Minister.
Pleas to work with FIFA & AFC to conduct an inquiry and appoint a Normalisation Committee, with the blessings of the Parent Body was also disdained by the Minister, perhaps due to several ongoing issues with many Sports governing bodies. But Football cries for mercy.
It is rumored that FIFA and AFC sleuths may be in town soon.
They should go see the energetic Minister of Sports and help put Sri Lanka’s Football out of its misery!
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