Sports: Heroes and villains

Crest-fallen and sorely disappointed last night, most Sri Lankans would wake up today trying to reconcile with the fact that the national team emerged second-best and not the best at yesterday's much anticipated cricket World Cup final in Mumbai.
The fact that the bold Sri Lankans made it to the final in a long and arduous tournament in itself was a great achievement. They lost to the better team on the night. They may have lost but these young Sri Lankans have won great admiration and respect, for their cricketing prowess and their sportsmanship both in this country and across the cricket playing world. It was indeed a worthy final. The famous lines any cricketer is taught is that "For when the Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks not that you won or lost. But how you played the game".

These Sri Lankans proved that the 1996 World Cup win was no flash-in-the-pan entering the third Cup final in five tournaments, twice in succession. The national team has remained in the top four throughout the recent years. Consistency has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt. They lost last night to the top ranked cricketing nation before a hugely partisan and frenzied crowd, and away from home, and there is no dishonour in losing.

It must be however said that Sri Lanka had an easier passage to the finals than India, who faced tough opposition. India dethroned the three-time champions, Australia and the cricketing nomads of the world, the exciting but unpredictable Pakistanis, and by clearing the final hurdle by defeating the gutsy Sri Lankans, are the deserved winners of the 2011 Cricket World Cup. To them go the fruits of victory and all the accolades with it.

It was cricket that was the glue among all communities in Sri Lanka right through the three decades of trauma owing to the separatist insurgency. And it was cricket and the remarkable successes of the Sri Lankan teams of yesteryear that lifted the spirits of its people in those harrowing times.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has for long had an eye on the sponsorship angle, or put more bluntly, the money angle to the World Cup much in line with the Soccer World Cup. One must go along with the requirement to protect sponsors, financial partners and the need to keep a tab on viability of the tournament, especially one played across a vast sub-continent. The ICC had already re-formatted the 2011 tournament so that what happened in 2007 where countries like the much fancied India were unceremoniously eliminated even before the knock-out stages began would not be repeated. This time, all the eight major teams qualified for the quarter-final knock-out stage, even though England only just made it. The other six teams were merely the 'bite' or the appetizers for the main meal.

Market forces seem to be the driving force behind the ICC, if not cricket itself nowadays and India was given primus-inter-pares status in the selection of venues for the tournament. The fact that the ICC President, is also a powerful Indian Cabinet Minister, and part of the decision-making process was no coincidence.

Now that the morning after has dawned from the Cup final in Mumbai and there is dancing on the streets at least on the other side of the Palk Strait, the time is opportune to venture into an assessment of sports administration in this country.
It can safely be said that whatever the achievements of the Sri Lankan cricket team, they were achieved despite the cricket authorities and not because of them. One of the world's modern cricketing icons, Sir Vivian Richards from Antigua in the West Indies was asked recently why the great 'Caribbean' cricket has fallen from its pedestal and declined so rapidly over the years. The one-time undisputed world champs are now a mere shadow of their former selves and did not make it even to the semi-finals receiving an inglorious exit at the hands of India last month.

Sir Viv was to say that people in the West Indies who were men in other fields of activity saw in her cricket a plume they could wear on their hats; something to adorn themselves with for their personal glory rather than the general wellbeing of the game itself.

The Sri Lankan Cricket Board President who did the most for the upliftment of the game in this country was Minister Gamini Dissanayake. It was fortunate that he had a cricket loving President in Junius Jayewardene to guide him and a Ministry that could divert state resources, however outside its statutory powers, to building the cricket infrastructure that was a pre-requisite for the ICC to grant Sri Lanka full Test status, which he successfully argued for in 1981 in London.

To offset what Sir Viv said happened to cricket in the West Indies, an amendment was introduced to the local Sports Law to ensure that only those who had played the game at a representative level could hold office in any of the associations or governing bodies of all sports in Sri Lanka. Typical of the politicians, however, they also introduced a proviso that also gave the Minister of Sports the powers to appoint interim committees by dissolving elected bodies. These loopholes opened the floodgates for abuse of the law.

Successive Sports Ministers, often instigated by more important persons in Governments, played 'pandu' (games) with this infamous provision, section 33 of the law, rarely for good reason, often for bad reason, and sometimes for no reason. Like in the West Indies, people have like vultures, swooped on these governing bodies and ruined the future of the sportsmen and women and these sports in this country.

Cricket has been run by successive Interim Committees, most reeking with corruption, nepotism, political interference and mismanagement. There is already a stink about the sale of World Cup tickets from the local Board. In rugby football, the International Rugby Union suspended Sri Lanka for not having an elected body forcing the Minister to hold an election last week.

This kind of conduct will never be tolerated in countries where sportsmen and sportswomen do well for themselves and their country. In Sri Lanka, sports is more for the officials than for the participants. As many as 45 officials went for last year's Commonwealth Games along with 100 athletes.

If sports is to be taken seriously as a national endeavour; and as a bridge between communities; as well as a means of nurturing a healthy young population while bringing honour to the country and its people, the stables must be cleaned and the respective governing bodies manned by those who have its best interests as their guiding light. Politicians must only play a supporting role as Minister Gamini Dissanayake did. Else, even if we win the bid to host the Commonwealth Games in Hambantota in 2018, it is unlikely that we will win the medals on offer.

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Editorial Archive 2011 
09th January 2011 - Reciprocity to visitors
23rd January 2011 - Food crisis: The balanced diet
06th February 2011 - Independence 2011 and beyond
13th February 2011 - The message from Egypt
20th March 2011 - Be with Japan, be prepared
27th March 2011 - Without FIA, more sabhas will mean more crooks
03rd April 2011 - Sports: Heroes and villains
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