Sri Lanka tightrope walking - 2011 World Cup

The line between geopolitics and sports is as thin as the difference between love and hate. In the present context of the world political gamut, countries have even begun to use sports as a tool to barter items to foot their bill.

The 2011 World Cup scheduled to be played in the Indian subcontinent was never in a healthy state from the very inception.

We clearly remember the chairman of the then 2011 World Cup organising committee Ijaz Butt bemoaning that arrangements were really behind schedule and that was over eight months ago. At that time he said that work related to the ‘plum’ of world cricket was at least 11 months behind schedule.

In the original plan Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were billed to host the tournament with the headquarters perched in Pakistan while the PCB head Ijaz Butt appointed as the head of the organising committee.

What formed the initial cracks in the scheduled tournament was the political cold war between India and Pakistan with relations taking a turn for the worse during the past eighteen months, especially after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. On the other hand, cricket which was fighting its own sports political war against the alleged hegemony of the game by the Western Group had brought India and Pakistan together with Sri Lanka as a major player in the group along with Bangladesh as a full voting member of ICC making the sub-continent group a very formidable force in the ICC. With the group working in unison they had a block of four votes on any call.

Besides, they had another factor going in their favour. With the new found affluence of India and it becoming one of the most populace and fastest growing markets in the World along with the godly love for the game of cricket by its people, India became the richest and the monetarily influential nation within the international cricket community.

However, with this shift in ascent, even the Western group which included England, Australia and their allies grudgingly agreed to respect and take the Asian countries seriously.However it seems that their own political disagreements are putting things back in the old band wagon again. Ironically the terror attack on Sri Lankan cricketers on Pakistan soil changed the entire scenario.

Sri Lanka undertook to go ahead with the tour of Pakistan more as a political favour rather than a sporting gesture. Firstly, this tour was not in the ICC’s future tours programme. This hastily arranged tour was to fill the void created by the refusal of the Indian team to tour Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks for which India accused Pakistan-based groups of being involved.

The Sri Lankan team left for Pakistan to take part in this tour after obtaining foreign ministry clearance.

The terrorist attack on the Lankan cricketers in Pakistan had its own backlashes in India. India which was getting ready for the T20 IPL, took a step back and moved it over to South Africa after the central government which was getting ready for the general elections refused to provide security to this very popular tournament.

Then as expected the ICC instead of swapping or rescheduling the tournament to their alternate venues in Australia and New Zealand decided to go ahead and hold the tournament in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh while usurping all responsibilities and scheduled matches from Pakistan.

Ijaz Butt, chairman of PCB, has said that the manner in which the ICC decision was taken was "legally flawed...unfair and discriminatory" and that Pakistan intended to fight for its right as co-host.

Pakistan alleges the status of the 2011 World Cup was not on the original agenda of the ICC Board meeting on April 17 and 18 (when the decision was made). The implication is that Pakistan wasn't given a fair opportunity to defend its case as a co-host. Legal notice has been sent to the ICC president David Morgan and under the ICC's constitution, the PCB is asking for the matter to be referred to the disputes resolution committee.

Here the ICC president can either refer the matter to the dispute resolution committee which is made up of ICC's officials or to the independent arbitration before the Court of Arbitration for Sports.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has stayed, until June 2, the ICC's decision to relocate the World Cup 2011 secretariat from Lahore to India.

Pakistan Cricket Board's legal adviser Taffazul Rizvi was quoted by AFP as saying, “until an ICC dispute committee or the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) resolves the primary case -- shifting the matches out of Pakistan -- the World Cup secretariat could not be moved out of Pakistan. "Pakistan can also claim relief on the relocation of the secretariat."

Sharad Pawar Nishantha Ranatunga Ijaz Butt Duleep Mendis

On that same note, last week Ejaz Butt made an unannounced visit to Sri Lanka and met Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge and the cricket board hierarchy.

He sought Sri Lanka’s support for his endeavour in saving Pakistan’s World Cup rights while he put forward some proposals for the scrutiny of the SLC. Butt, citing the prevailing internal security situation of each Indian sub-continent nation in detail, suggested that we should swap the tournament with Australia and New Zealand. Sri Lanka Cricket replied to this by saying that they would stick by the ICC set guide lines.In the latest development that has filtered in, the ICC has taken a step back and invited the original four sub-continental hosts of the 2011 World Cup to meet in Dubai in a bid to reach an out-of-court settlement of the issue. It is reported that this is directly a result of Butt’s visit to meet the Lankan hierarchy and the Indian World Cup chief Sharad Pawar.

Pakistan tends to lose hosting of 14 World Cup matches. It is said that they have indicated that they would make arrangements to host these matches in either Abu Dhabi, Dubai or even in Malaysia. But, the catch is that India is not very receptive towards this move for obvious reasons.

In this development, the SLC is doing some tightrope walking. Adding insult to injury, they also have replaced their World Cup representative Duleep Mendis who was there from the very inception of the work of the 2011 edition with the new secretary Nishantha Ranatunga.

Politically Sri Lanka needs to keep both Pakistan and India in their good books. With a green horn at the helm how Sri Lanka is going to act at this tricky juncture is a very important move in our cricketing future.

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