By Rex Clementine
At Thursday’s parliamentary debate on the affairs of Sri Lanka Cricket, several MPs who have held the portfolio of Sports Minister were expressing their views and each of them went onto point out how the game prospered under their watch. The truth, however, is far from it. Barring a couple of Ministers like Mangala Samaraweera, Dullas Alahapperuma and Naveen Dissanayake, most Sports Ministers interfered with the affairs of the cricket board and did more harm than good.
S.B. Dissanayake was the most eloquent pointing out to the House how he ensured better payments for players and other comforts so that the game thrived. But what has been not told is that retired Scotland Yard mastermind and the current head of the Anti-Corruption Unit of the International Cricket Council Alex Marshall had exposed that S.B. Dissanayake had been paid handsomely by one cricket board chief from the money a foreign broadcaster owed SLC.
Then there was Johnston Fernando. He was a Minister who tried to be popular with the players. Cheap popularity can have disastrous outcome. In 2002, Sri Lanka had taken a 2-0 unassailable lead over Zimbabwe and the selectors wanted to rest a senior player and try out young prodigy Chamara Silva. The seniors went and complained to Fernando who in turn sacked the selectors and brought in a new panel telling them that the senior should play.
Poor Chamara Silva suffered in silence and had to wait for five more years to make his Test debut. It was a massive waste as Silva scored a match winning 150 in just his second Test match at the Basin Reserve as Sri Lanka recorded a come from behind victory against New Zealand.
Hours after being appointed as Sports Minister, C.B. Ratnayake conducted a press conference and called the Cricket Board the third most corrupt institution in the country. Police took first place and education came second according to him. However, instead of putting the house in order, Ratnayake packed the Cricket Board with his kith and kin.
We also had Gamini Lokuge, who defected from opposition to government and was offered the Sports Ministry. Lokuge, sacked the board, appointed his Secretary as the Competent Authority with a tour of India to Sri Lanka looming large.
It is a well-known secret that tours by India makes the cricket board richer. Each white ball game that India plays is worth US$ 2 million. Lokuge, signed a deal with a television company that had been blacklisted by SLC – Nimbus. True to form, the company defaulted on the payment and SLC was left high and dry. There should be another Parliament debate on this debacle.
The introduction of Dayasiri Jayasekara as Sports Minister in 2016 was a timely move. Sidath Wettimuny as the board president had got the blessings of the ICC to change the constitution of SLC, which was seen as a major stumbling block for progress of the game. Interested parties told then President Maithripala Sirisena to get the Sports Ministry under his SLFP watch and Dayasiri became Minister of Sports. He prevented constitutional changes, and we are struck in this mess because of his interference.
Dayasiri is also known for his ego. The Sports Minister giving his approval to the team selected by the national selection panel is a mere formality. There had been an oversight and the selectors had failed to get Dayasiri’s approval for the tour of India in 2017 and the Minister recalled the team back after the players had boarded the flight to Delhi. This incident made Sri Lanka Cricket the laughingstock at the world stage.
When the UNP got the Sports Ministry back, they put the young Harin Fernando in charge of sports. He had his school interests more than the national interests in mind and given every opportunity he was looking to promote a Josephian. It was such a shame that a Sri Lankan Test captain had to be unceremoniously dumped while on tour and the captaincy taken to St. Joseph’s without any protocol.
Fernando also messed with the electoral process blocking deserving candidates and promoting friends on faulty technical grounds.
All in all, most of these Ministers have promoted their personal agendas than serving genuinely. SLC no doubt needs censure, but this lot pointing fingers is like pot calling the kettle black for they have plenty of skeletons in their cupboards.