Standing tall and calling a spade a spade

It was one of the most erudite expressions made about contemporary cricket in Sri Lanka. It was articulate, eloquent and very Sri Lankan. In short, after going through the content, I can understand how the former Sri Lankan cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara managed to keep an audience of over 1,500 people spellbound for more than an hour with his own experiences in the game and other matters which affect the game. As a matter of fact it was done at the home of cricket – Lord’s.

At the same time, I am confident that Sangakkara will go down in history as the first active cricketer who came out in open and opined about the maladies that is hampering his profession in an honest bid to save it.

Some of the contents of his speech may be hard hitting. But at the same time none what he said was a revelation. An insider who quite enjoyed the storm that this usage of the freedom of expression has brewed quipped “all what he has said is true, yet, you can wear the hat if it fits you or else be on a side and watch the fun as it goes”.

Sangakkara has very rightly said if there is no spectator interest there is no future for the game. This is the basic truth. Cricket is another sport which has managed to capture the hearts of our islanders, but, with the impure elements contaminating the game like what Minister Susil Premajayantha’s 90 Octane petrol is doing to many cars on the road at present there is going to be calamity.

Ironically the Sports Law -- the root cause for the present ills that has enveloped the game in the country -- was originally presented to parliament by the then Sports Minister K.B. Ratnayake with all pure intent. Being a cricketer and a cricket lover himself, he made this law effective for the plain and simple reason of curbing individuals with the wrong agendas using the game for their own advantage.

Sadly the wrongdoings that the good minister sought to prevent at that time were just a minute fraction of today’s exploding corruption. I wonder what would K.B. Ratnayake have done if he was the Sports Minister today.

The day after his memorable speech at Lord’s, Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara celebrated with a stylish 74 in the fourth One Day International cricket match between England and Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground in Nottingham, England.- AFP

Sangakkara commented about the Sports Minister being the ultimate authority of team selections. Yes, we too ask it again. What right has he got to wear that hat -- to question the authority of the national selectors’ choice when picking a national squad of a given sport? The selectors even picked by him from a list forwarded by the cricket administration in power are all qualified persons. For example a person who has played only school cricket and mercantile cricket will not be put to select the national team. Then what right has the sports minister got to be the final authority of selection in this country? We deplore, especially in cricket -- a game that has made Sri Lanka a force to be reckoned with in the world arena with our national cricketers being true professionals --a mundane layman who wears the hat of a Sports Minister sitting in authority over the choice of the selectors.

While blaming the sports law and the political involvement in the sport and the adverse repercussion that they have on the game, Sangakkara slams the existing cricket board election system in this country (or what was there as cricket elections)?

Speaking of the political ills, he said: “For Sri Lanka to be able to select a national team it must have membership of the Sports Ministry. No team can be fielded without the final approval of the Sports Minister. It is indeed a unique system where the board-appointed selectors can at any time be overruled and asked to reselect a side already chosen.

“The Sports Minister can also exercise his unique powers to dissolve the cricket board if investigations reveal corruption or financial irregularity. “With the victory in 1996 came money and power to the board and players.

“Players from within the team itself became involved in power games within the board. Officials elected to power in this way in turn manipulated player loyalty to achieve their own ends. At times board politics would spill over in to the team causing rift, ill feeling and distrust.

“Accountability and transparency in administration and credibility of conduct were lost in a mad power struggle that would leave Sri Lankan cricket with no consistent and clear administration. Presidents and elected executive committees would come and go; government-picked interim committees would be appointed and dissolved.

“After 1996 the cricket board has been controlled and administered by a handful of well-meaning individuals either personally or by proxy rotated in and out depending on appointment or election. Unfortunately to consolidate and perpetuate their power they opened the door of the administration to partisan cronies that would lead to corruption and wonton waste of cricket board finances and resources.

“It was and still is confusing. Accusations of vote buying and rigging, player interference due to lobbying from each side and even violence at the AGMs, including the brandishing of weapons and ugly fist fights, have characterized cricket board elections for as long as I can remember.”

Huge statement by an active cricketer, but every word said is true. Yes, the rot set in the aftermath of the 1996 World Cup victory where big bucks started rolling on one side and Sri Lanka becoming a recognized member among the hierarchy of World Cricket. For the lesser beings and some times the politicians it was the wheeler deals and the big bucks that were the attraction. For some who already had the big bucks but lacked in social status it was the image laundering that was the attraction. Anyway either criterion meant a hell of a lot to the respective parties.

At the same time some in upper echelons in cricket do not agree with Sangakkara. They are of the view that just because a soldier is given the gun he has no green light to go on a wanton killing spree.
But, was this a wanton killing spree or a very erudite study of a deteriorating system that has been brought to focus for an analytical digest?

Even now we hear down the grapevine about who has got the blessings of the political hierarchy to contest the next cricket elections and who is smarting about it. Yes, when the time comes we will come out with the ABCs of that too.

However, Sangakkara cannot be booked for what he said. He has the complete blessings of the SLC to make his speech at Lords. At the same time none of the Lankan cricketers are under a given contract that is binding them to the system.

Yet again can we book a cricketer like Sangakkara for speaking the truth and hurting the feelings of a mere politician?

Visit Sanga’s full text of speech

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