By Upali Tennakoon |Lanka Independent Published on July 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm
The prestigious Colin Cowdrey lecture delivered by the Sri Lankan star cricketer Kumar Sangakkara has ignited the sports
His father named him Michael Colin Cowdrey, to give him the same initials as cricket's most famous club, the Marylebone Cricket Club
and political spheres in Sri Lanka. His speech was based on the history of Sri Lanka’s Cricket and its present situation. In this finely compiled courageous speech Kumar Sangakkara made some important revelations before an elite crowd gathered at Lords to witness the event.
Kumar Sangakkara delivering his lecture at Lords
The facts which Sangakkara brought to light during his speech were no secret to the majority of Sri Lankans. All these issues were widely discussed in local media reports through out the past 24 months but all the relevant authorities turned a blind eye to them. And the malpractices, misappropriations and corruption continued unabated.
This resulted in a huge corrosion in Sri Lanka’s cricket administration and still ‘Sri Lanka Cricket’ ( SLC ) is submerged in an unresolvable financial crisis. The Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage recently presented a cabinet paper seeking Rs. 2 billion from the Treasury to bail out Sri Lanka Cricket from the crisis but this was shot down by his other cabinet colleagues. Now, the SLC administration is trapped in a huge mess and apparently no one has any idea what should be done to resurrect this organization.
It is in this context that Kumar Sangakkara delivered his historic speech in England. He was brave enough to discuss these matters openly at Lords widely accepted as the home of cricket. When Sangakkara was selected to deliver this speech by the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) it was highly appreciated in the Sri Lankan media since he was the first ever active player in the international cricket arena who had the opportunity to deliver the prestigious Colin Cowdrey lecture at Lords. It is undoubtedly a valuable recognition of Sri Lankan Cricket and Sangakkara.
Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage
For his part the former captain demonstrated his class as a sportsman by delivering an awe-inspiring speech. But now it is apparent that Sri Lankan Cricket administrators are irritated by some of his remarks. The Sports Minister has already ordered the SLC authorities to conduct a probe into Sangakkara’s lecture.
Why are Sri Lankan Cricket authorities so irritated? Here are some of the controversial remarks made by Kumar Sangakkara about the Cricket administration in Sri Lanka:
“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.
President Mahinda Rajapakse has single-handedly pulverised Sri Lanka's most popular sport
“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 characterised cricket board elections for as long as I can remember.
“The team lost the buffer between itself and the cricket administration. Players had become used to approaching members in power, directly trading favours for mutual benefits and by 1999 all these changes in administration and player attitudes had transformed what was a close knit unit in 1996 into a collection of individuals with no shared vision or sense of team”
Speaking truth to power
Any person who has closely observed the Cricket administration in Sri Lanka over the past 15 years would agree with the veracity of Kumar’s words. After 1996, the Cricket administration rapidly turned into a playground for political stooges. Cricket was increasingly politicized. During the Presidential election campaign in 2010, some players who represent the national cricket team were invited to appear in advertisements in support of President Mahinda Rajapakshe’s election campaign.
Appearing in ads for Rajapakse
Two senior players accepted these invitations and appeared in the advertisements. Isn’t it a testimony to prove these remarks? Moreover, during the following Parliamentary election, the Sri Lankan player Sanath Jayasuriya was given the opportunity to contest for Matara district under the UPFA ticket. As a result of this, for the first time in Sri Lankan history, an active cricket player was elected to the Parliament thanks to President Mahinda Rajapakse.
Rajapakse’s World Cup politics
Politicization of Cricket was at the helm when Sri Lanka participated in the ICC World Cup 2011 as a host nation. Instead of being an event of national significance, it turned into a mere political spectacle which helped the government at least temporarily cover up all the unaddressed socio-economic problems of the country while painting rosy pictures of the “Cricket World Cup”. It was none other than the government who transformed this event into a political drama through various strategies.
Glory days: Upul Tharanga's cricketing future ruined by President Rajapakse and his medicine man Eliyantha White. Photo taken from www.newshopper.sulekha.com
Upul, Eliyantha and Mahinda: Just not cricket
President Rajapakse, as we all saw, unashamedly and to cover up his political sins, became directly involved in the effort to win the World Cup for Sri Lanka. Bypassing the Sports Medical Unit, the President violating all regulations and licensing laws, assigned his personal medicine man Eliyantha White to treat the physical ailments of Sri Lankan national cricket players. This move finally resulted in a two- months suspension for player Upul Tharanga who was instrumental in quarter-final and semi-final victories for Sri Lanka during the world cup. Now, who will take the responsibility for the black mark on Tharanga that will undoubtedly effect the future of this promising young player? Those are the issues that need to be addressed.
When these problems were brought to light by the local media, no one paid attention to it. instead of addressing these burning issues, the authorities adopted a ‘deaf and blind’ approach. It is in this backdrop that Kumar Sangakkara delivered his speech. When there is no response from the incumbents, there is no other option than to take the matter to the international level.
Wrong end of stick
Instead of inquiring how Sangakkara was able to make that speech the SLC authorities and the Sports Minister should now
President Mahinda Rajapakse's personal shaman - Eliyantha White
take immediate steps to investigate the vital matters which Sangakkara revealed during the speech. If not they will continue to wallow in the same old pool of mud. the Sri Lankan sports authorities, as I believe, should be civilized enough to rectify their own faults and errors without bringing out false and foolish excuses. the SLC, as we all know, has run into bankruptcy after the ICC World Cup and that is definitely a serious issue. So, why not probe into it?
Not cheap politics
Sangakkara’s speech was not contaminated by cheap ‘politics’. During his speech he didn’t sing hosannas to any political leader. The only political figure he mentioned in his speech was the late minister Gamini Dissanayake. Mr. Gamini Dissanayake pioneered Sri Lanka’s cricket administration to obtain test status in the late 70s and early 80s. Sangakkara mentioned his name twice in his speech and it was a well deserved honour for a great administrator. Apart from that, there were no politicians mentioned in his speech. It was a significant characteristic of the speech.
Political stooges, flunkeys or motley fools cannot deliver such exemplary speeches. To deliver such a speech, the speaker himself must be a person of principle. He should be uncontaminated by politics and political influence. While delivering the speech, Sangakkara revealed that his decision to resign from captaincy, was taken long before the World Cup. The conditions which compelled him to resign from captaincy are pretty obvious. Therefore, Sangakkara himself has set a great example to others who may also be weary of the constant political interference.
Destroying the spirit of the game
After Sri Lanka received Test Status in 1982, there have been several governments that ruled this country under several Presidents. But none of these governments attempted to use its political influence on sports and destroy the spirit of the game. Those governments and Presidents were wise enough to understand how detrimental it would be to the quality of game, to do so.
But, under the Rajapakse regime, the spirit of game is being shamelessly murdered in broad daylight. It is the government who should be held responsible for this tragic situation. Under the Rajapakse regime,”politicization” has plagued all the independent bodies in the country this has already generated disastrous results.
Sangakkara is not the only one who has been deeply affected due to this ‘plague’ of Politicization. There can be many people in many sections of the society who are frustrated with the same issue. But the saddest part is, most of them are reluctant to come forward and raise their voices against it.
Apparently they have decided to remain silent and move along with this disgusting socio-political ‘atmosphere’. It is in this context that Kumar Sangakkara came forward and raised his voice against the prevailing situation. Others can also draw inspiration from this brave act and have a new beginning against corruption and politicization. Sangakkara has set a good example and from here onwards this flag should be carried along by others as well.
This is a new beginning for our civil society also. Sri Lanka doesn’t have a robust civil organization system which could influence the lawmakers decisively and efficaciously. Lack of Civil movements can also be identified as the major reason for the political intervention in each and every section of the society. If there were stronger civil movements, it would be difficult for the politicians to intervene in other independent social structures.
In India, for instance, politicians are barred from interfering in matters such as sports and cannot make the cricketing authorities dance according to their beat. President Mahinda Rajapakshe must understand the gravity of this problem.
Today, Kumar Sangakkara can commemorate Mr. Gamini Dissanayake’s service as a pioneer and a great boon to Sri Lanka’s Cricket. Tomorrow, in some other time ,in some other place, there will be some other who may commemorate President Mahinda Rajapakse’s name too. But under present conditions, no one will be able to commemorate him as a leader who rendered service to the betterment of Cricket in Sri Lanka. He will be remembered instead as the leader who single-handedly pulverized Sri Lanka’s most popular sport.