Iwonder how many of us remember the Nomads Grounds which is now covered by the sprawling ‘Nelum Pokuna’ theatre complex. Yes, at one juncture, some bright politician came across this sudden brainwave and thus, the theatre complex became a reality. But the loser in the process was the game of cricket. With the arrival of [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Nomads, clubs and bandits


 Iwonder how many of us remember the Nomads Grounds which is now covered by the sprawling ‘Nelum Pokuna’ theatre complex. Yes, at one juncture, some bright politician came across this sudden brainwave and thus, the theatre complex became a reality. But the loser in the process was the game of cricket. With the arrival of the theatre complex, Nomads was relocated at Reid Avenue for awhile and then gradually, faded into oblivion.

In the 1960s, the then Municipal Commissioner, B.A. Jayasinghe, launched the Nomads Sports Club, along with the then National Cricketer, Anuruddha Polonnowita. It was Jayasinghe’s pet project. Mind you, within two years of the setting up of the club, Nomads won the Division I Sara Trophy with Polonnowita captaining the unbeaten side. Then, in 1973, there was more reason for celebration, when the then Sports Minister Vincent Perera declared open Nomads’ new pavilion.

Also in 1973, another nomadic club in the Premier League, Bloomfield, which was looking for a permanent abode, moved to its present Reid Avenue location, much to the untiring efforts of its inimitable mentor Shelly Wickremasinghe.

The Nomads Cricket Club which won the P. Saravanamuttu Trophy, is now in the past tense but, there are more nomads in cricket administration, who keep roaming from venue to venue, seeking the crown at clubs, with the ulterior motive of holding office at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). For instance, at one juncture, Jayantha Dharmadasa made an unsuccessful attempt to take over the reins of Bloomfield. Prior to that, Dharmadasa also held an important portfolio at the BRC, before moving to Galle CC as its president. Now that he has given up his Galle hold to marketer Kumar Samarasinghe, Dharmadasa is looking to take over the main chair at the Saracens Sports Club, with the help of a section of the Macan Markar family, who have been the mainstay of that entity for generations.

From the inner section CCC's old grandeur is still preserved, but, the outer half is a sprawling commercial hub, which may be quite in contrary to the Sports Club ethics.

However, when these drivers of the clubs take their hands off the steering, there is a following downer. It was not many moons ago that an off-spinner of repute was enticed to play for Galle CC, promising the opportunity to get back his National cap. As promised, the off-spinner played one match for the country once again, with the help of another powerful political cricketer who has now moved to cricket administration. The promise was fulfilled, the bowler played only one game and he is back to square one again. Now with the change of heads, the off-spinner also has moved on from Galle, and is trying his luck at a club at Havelock Park which is trying to make a comeback into big-time cricket.

Not only the off-spinner, it is known that at least two more playmakers have left Galle CC and are turning out for clubs with more clout with the Top Guns.

Then, there is the case of Bloomfield, where almost its entire cream of cricketers was skimmed off after the Dharmadasa faction lost its bid to capture power. First the players were warned that, if they do not leave Bloomfield, they would lose their right to represent the county, and meekly, the players obeyed the order. Bloomfield President Jayantha Seneviratne said, “The players were told by Sanath Jayasuriya, Chairman of the National Selection Committee, that if they continued playing for Bloomfield they would not be considered. So, I gave my blessings. If there is something good happening for the young cricketers, so it be.”

Then came the second bombshell. Seneviratne said Bloomfield was told that it would not get any monetary assistance, as the club had failed to fulfill some of the SLC objectives. “But now, we are told that nothing of that sort would happen, and Bloomfield C&AC would get monetary assistance from the SLC. However, now we a short of cricketers.”

Yet, the sidelining of the club is evident in many fronts.

Then, there is this case of some club administrators who are steamrolling and riding their luck to the very limit. None other than CCC General Secretary Prasantha ‘Pusa’ Wimalasena comes out with this story, where the century-old Gymkhana Club stands to lose everything it possesses, if it fails to curb its greed.

In the aftermath of our story of the plight of Sooriyawewa International Stadium, Wimalasena was at my desk explaining the woes of the Gymkhana Club, and is wondering when this cavalcade would end. Wimalasena explained, “This is a club which maintained impeccable standards during its halcyon days. Today, what has happened is, we have moved out of our basic sporting principles, and it has been converted into a total commercial entity. Quite contrary to the club’s lease agreement and understanding, the club has moved into to various commercial ventures, which is not consistent with the club’s objectives. This is a sports and recreational club.”

Wimalasena said that the club’s objectives have changed in the past few years. There are various commercial establishments coming up in the vicinity but, it was not long ago, that the rugby wing of the Club, CH&FC, had to pull out of the local rugby League. “We have shifted our focus. We have nightclubs and other commercial ventures in the club premises. Now, the latest scheme in the pipeline is the commercial and apartment complex. The strange thing is the sublease of this property which is going to overlap our original lease with the government. If this situation continues, there is a possibility of the government acquiring the property and, in the end, we will lose our hold on the Gymkhana Club. So, we all must realise the gravity of the situation and put a stop to it.”

Wimalasena who is also a rugby stalwart of the club complained that they raised these concerns at the club management meetings but, those behind the commercial ventures have built such a fortress around them that the concerns expressed just go into deaf ears. He said, “For instance, even the monies that we get from these ventures are a joke. For instance, we have made provisions for a gymnasium, and most of that space is taken for commercial ventures. But, even then, what does the club get? The club gets about Rs. 15-20 per square foot for these spaces but, in turn, the sublease charge is Rs. 150-200 per square foot.

“Then, the four million rupees the CCC received to spruce up the club from the SLC to hold the match against the visiting Australians, was another case. The Australians categorically stated that the CCC facility did not have the necessary capacity to stage that game. The game was not played. The spruce up was not done. But, what happened to the four million rupees?” Wimalasena asked.

First, it was the Sooriyawewa facility that we discovered to be in a sorry state but, when one ventures out, there are frogs in many more ponds.

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