Concerns about Sri Lanka CricketJanuary 17, 2016
Manjula Fernando, in Sunday Observer, 17 January 2016, where the title is “C is for corrupt” **
With rampant corruption and alleged vote rigging, Sri Lanka Cricket remains one of the most unscrupulous sporting bodies, while reform proposals that has ICC backers gathers dust.
Sri Lanka Cricket’s (SLC) constitutional change is still a proposal that hangs in the balance. To surmise that the document prepared by the now disbanded Interim Committee headed by former Test opener Sidath Wettimuny will be left to gather dust in a closet of the Sports Ministry is too early. But it’s been months since it was presented to the government.
An effort by the Sunday Observer to discern where the tide is heading met with pessimism as well as optimism.
When approached, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera outright refused to comment on the hot topic. “I don’t want to fall into traps where they try to set me against the Prime Minister,” he retorted, hinting at possible hidden political undercurrents. He said he did not want to say anything on the proposals submitted by the Interim Committee but fell short of giving a reason for his reticence.
The Interim Committee appointed by the former Sports Minister Navin Dissanayake early last year was deemed an independent effort to streamline Sri Lanka’s cricket administration which is alleged to be mired in corruption. It has been reiterated by many in recent years that drastic changes should be made before the local cricket establishment becomes a joke in the eyes of the ICC and the cricketing world.
Election rigging: However, the newly elected Sri Lanka Cricket president Thilanga Sumathipala was more forthcoming and ready with answers. He told the Sunday Observer there were decisions that even they were not happy about after the voting, but had been compelled to abide by. He refused to take the blame for any election rigging and insisted that none could claim Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) election was not free and fair.
|During election, candidates run around winning over or buying votes, which is not right
– Sidath Wettimuny
|None could claim Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) election was not free and fair
– SLC President Thilanga Sumathipala
|I don’t want to fall into traps where they try to set me against the Prime Minister
– Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera
“If that was the case, I am also among the aggrieved,” he said, adding that a powerful minister in the Cabinet manipulated the voting on election day in certain ways. Sumathipala, citing one incident, said both the Sri Lanka University Sports Association and Nationalised Services Cricket Association had, under pressure, abstained from voting. The voting member from the Nationalised Services Cricket Association worked at the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. The two Associations are said to have supported Sumathipala’s candidacy. Asked if his position in Parliament as Deputy Speaker will clash with his interests as cricket chief, Sumathipala said on the contrary SLC will gain from the political clout that he enjoys as a Parliamentarian and Deputy Speaker.
A key proposal in the Wettimuny report, which calls for sweeping changes in the SLC Constitution, is the overhaul of the voting system that elects members to run the sport’s affairs. The reform proposals, which are yet to be made public, are expected to reject the candidacy of politicians.
But Sumathipala claimed that he had no idea as to what the Wettimuny Report contained. He said SLC is planning a two- day workshop to come up with suggestions for a strategic plan. “We will be seeking advice from university academics and other experts”, said Sumathipala. The SLC is to call for an extraordinary general meeting thereafter to present the outcome of this workshop. Without committing himself, Sumathipala said they could refer to the Wettimuny Report during deliberations at the workshop.
Responding to queries the former chairman of the Interim Committee and veteran cricketer Sidath Wettimuny told the Sunday Observer he had wrapped up his duty by turning in a comprehensive and impartial report that he thought contained important proposals to revamp SLC. Asked why the proposals have not been made public so far, he said he was waiting for the Prime Minister and the authorities to take action as he knew the Premier was equally keen to bring about a change. “I certainly hope the proposals will be considered. I am not saying the proposals have to be implemented in toto but something on those lines need to be done to salvage Sri Lanka Cricket,” said Wettimuny.
Before the proposals were penned the Interim Committee, on the advice of the ICC, consulted the South African cricket board and the Irish cricket board. The Interim committee chief himself spoke to the presidents of the cricket boards of both South Africa and Ireland and the concept paper is based on these models. “What we have done will ensure there is accountability and transparency, which is crucial for SLC’s survival. So I am hoping that something will be done. Even the minister agreed that this was a good idea. And it’s up to them now to act on it,” Wettimuny said.
He said Sri Lanka can learn from the Indian Supreme Court ruling to their cricket board. Asked if keeping away politicians and government servants from the cricket board is something that they too have proposed just like the Indians, he responded in the positive. When the spot-fixing scandal broke out in 2013 and the issue of the arrest of three prominent cricketers went to the Indian Supreme Court, the court appointed a panel to hear several cases relating to the Indian Premier League (IPL) corruption.
The panel comprised a former Chief Justice of India, R. M. Lodha and two former judges of the Supreme Court. Apart from the inquiry into the IPL affairs, the panel was also asked to make recommendations to the BCCI in reforming the governance model among other things. The report has now been made public. “The time is right and we should not sit on this,” Wettimuny declared. “The ICC is fully supportive to make the change and when you have been given the green light and the support, we must grab it.”
The ICC has said they will provide technical support to sit together and draft a Constitution which will be accepted by them and the government of Sri Lanka. Wettimuny said to his knowledge it was the first time the ICC has made such an offer to Sri Lanka Cricket or even discussed such a thing with them. He assured the proposals will ensure accountability, transparency and a far less complicated voting system.
One of the biggest issues facing SLC today is the number of club votes at stake to elect the cricket board membership. South Africa, Australia and New Zealand each have a mere seven or eight votes. England has some 22. India with such a huge population has only 46 votes. Sri Lanka has 147 votes.
“It is a joke and this solely contributes to breeding politicisation, corruption and malpractice as the smaller clubs are at the mercy of SLC and cricket godfathers. During election, candidates run around winning over or buying votes, which is not right. We have a completely lopsided voting system where certain clubs who get to vote do not even play Division Four cricket. But they have the same voting status as the major cricketing clubs”, said Wettimuny.
Wettimuny said although manipulators will try to get around [whatever system is set up], the system would ensure that there is transparency and accountability which would better protect the game. at