Play the game

The 19th century self-styled genius Oscar Wilde once described the part-time exercise sport of English country gentlemen galloping after foxes as the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. In typical fashion, he was euphemistically speaking of who was more obnoxious than whom.

Tragically, during the past few decades and especially during the past thirty years of the self-centred globalised capitalist market economy era, sport has been sent tumbling from the Olympian heights where it began. In those good old days - and we mean it in reality more than as a cliché -- the guiding principle was that when the one great Scorer comes to write against your name, he will write not of how you won or lost but how you played the game. Great mottos and moral factors also remind us of Kipling's famous poem "If" where he tells us that if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those imposters just the same or if you can make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start at your beginnings. Then yours is the earth and everything that's in it.

Over the centuries, sport, to a large degree, has been commercialized and politicized to the extent that it is more a business with all its cut-throat competitiveness.

The invaders of the British Empire came to Sri Lanka and other countries mostly to conquer, plunder and blunder, but they also left behind some little gems or relics such as the gentlemen's game of cricket, lovely cricket. One example which uplifts people in these days of degeneration and degradation of almost everything around us is that of the legendary bowler Wesley Hall. He was bowling the last ball of the match and the then Sri Lanka captain, Michael Tissera was on 96 needing a boundary to reach a milestone century. The sporting Hall reportedly whispered to the umpire before bowling the last ball that he would deliver a full toss and if Tissera did not get the boundary, the umpire should call "no ball". The result was achieved through a brilliant hook, but there was no crook or crooks as we see today in the once noble game of cricket and sports in general.

If there is a Hall who does that today he might be hauled up for match fixing as we see so often in international cricket today where it is largely a pathway to fame and fortune instead of the spirit of the game.

In Sri Lanka, especially after the world cup triumph in 1996, cricket has become a prime symbol of national pride though some times it is dragged down to the levels of obsessions and diversions. Whatever may happen or not happen on the field, we have seen in recent days the extent of the horrible scandal behind the scoreboard.

We are writing this editorial because cricket is and has been very much part and parcel of Sri Lankan life. The nation is indebted to Arjuna Ranatunga and his team for winning us the World Cup. They did much for Sri Lankan life at times when we were down in the dumps with the civil conflict. However, this does not give an open licence to any past cricketer to do as he pleases with the cricket administration.

Googlies are being bowled around now that there may be a change in the cricket administration in the form of an election to the Cricket Board or the appointment of a new interim committee.

Mr. Ranatunga who, some say, used his vote in Parliament to bat his way into the cricketing presidency believes that it is only cricketers who can run the game in the country. But since he took control of the interim committee, cricket administration seems to have gone from crisis to crisis. It is with great sadness, cricket lovers hear increasing reports about Mr. Ranatunga's authoritarianism. Playing the game or leading the team on the field and administering the game's governing body are as different from batting is from bowling.

Mr. Ranatunga's game as interim committee president soon started going sour with the players. Amidst a controversy over the multi-million dollar Indian Premier League tournament, changes were tried with player contracts. These contracts were delayed by more than four months and the disputes were solved only after the players outplayed or sidestepped Mr. Ranatunga and went direct to President Mahinda Rajapaksa for a decision. This controversy was followed by another. With Zimbabwe now getting thrashed and bashed in the western political arena, its cricket tour of England was cancelled.

Instead, an England tour was organized by Mr. Ranatunga without consulting the interim committee and that led to more problems with the players who had entered into huge contracts for IPL matches during that period. The Indian Cricket Board is also reported to be furious with Mr. Ranatunga for remarks he is said to have made about the IPL.

If the bane of cricket is the greed for fame and fortune through politicization and commercialization, then the election system also has its own no balls and leg byes -- with buying of votes by various parties.

Of course, the malaise has spread to most other sporting bodies -- athletics, rugby, hockey and swimming, to name a few.
As in other areas of life and governance, what we need urgently in cricket and other sports is more transparency, accountability and professionalism.

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