MPs across the divide on one playing field as all hit out against SL Cricket
By Sandun Jayawardana
The crux of the adjournment motion, moved by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Hesha Withanage, was the special audit conducted by the National Audit Office into SLC’s expenditure for the T20 World Cup 2022 held in Australia. The audit was carried out on the request of Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe.
Many MPs on both sides who spoke, contrasted the alleged lavish spending by SLC officials with the plight of cricket at grassroots level, particularly in schools which have found it difficult to offer the necessary resources to their cricketers.
Quoting the report, Mr Withanage told Parliament that SLC had spent Rs. 67,693,679 for 14 members of its executive committee to travel to Australia and watch the T20 World Cup over 10 days. After the audit report became public due to it being leaked on social media, three out of the 14 members have paid back Rs. 2,596,759 owed to SLC, said Mr Withanage.
He noted that the report also states that the SLC helped obtain visas for 35 people who had no connection to cricket to go to Australia to watch the games. Top SLC officials had signed letters to help them obtain visas to travel.
“Many school cricketers today can’t afford to purchase a cricket bat. Several players use the same set of gloves. SLC is not even concerned with resolving issues in the national team. Its officials only care for their personal needs,” said Mr Withanage.
He urged Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe to appoint an interim committee for SLC at least for a short period to change its Constitution to ensure it does not remain in the hands of the “mafia” that continues to have a hold on the board.
“Sports and politics should not be mixed. We should not implement a political agenda in any sport. We should think twice about appointing interim committees. There has been corruption within interim committees as well,” cautioned Former Sports Minister and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP Namal Rajapaksa in response.
Mr Rajapaksa said politicians have no right to take decisions about the legality of elected sports bodies, which are governed by the rules and regulations of international bodies that administer those respective sports. “We can’t change sports in this country for the better by changing the Constitution targeting one sports body,” he added.
The need of the hour is for Parliament to update the country’s Sports Law and for all elected sports bodies to be instructed to amend their Constitutions within six months of the new Act to correspond to international laws of their sport, said Mr Rajapaksa.
Supporting Mr Rajapaksa’s remarks, National People’s Congress (NPC) MP Prof. Charitha Herath proposed that an amendment to the Sports Law should be introduced to connect all sports bodies with Parliamentary oversight committees, namely the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA). “Otherwise, we will continue to have this problem,” said Prof. Herath.
Action needs to be taken to change the way office bearers are elected to the Cricket Board, said Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella. He pointed out that there are 142 votes to elect office bearers to SLC, but there are only 12 clubs, some of which he said don’t even play any cricket to speak of. “Their sole purpose to exist is to have votes to elect members to SLC,” he said. Mr Kiriella added that in most countries, there are less than 20 votes to elect office bearers to cricket boards.
The Chief Opposition Whip asked the government to accept the report compiled by a committee headed by retired Supreme Court Justice K.T. Chitrasiri. The report has been accepted by all of the country’s former leading cricketers. “There’s no point in continuing to talk about this. There must be political will for the government to change this situation.”
While the game of cricket is in the heart of the Sri Lankan public, no one can be happy over the depths to which the game has fallen in recent times, said National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
“We had to qualify for the World Cup. We were beaten by lower ranked teams. We cannot accept the manner of the defeats suffered by the team in recent times. We all accept that the sport has fallen. There are also serious allegations regarding indiscipline within the team.”
It is up to the Cricket Board to lead by example and ensure discipline within the team, said Mr Dissanayake. “But if this is the way the Board itself behaves, what will happen to the cricketers they are in charge of?” he queried. The NPP leader said the present Cricket Board had to accept much of the blame for the sad state of the game today.
The present audit is only for one tour, he further pointed out. It is not even a complete audit of the SLC. “If this is the state of the audit of one tour, what will an audit of the entire Cricket Board look like?”
It is through cricket that every other sport in the country too can develop, Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe said. This was because between 20-25% of the funds that come to cricket are diverted towards the development of other sports. “Cricket is the backbone of our sporting system. As such, I don’t see anything wrong in introducing laws specifically for cricket through a separate Act,” he stressed.
The report by Justice Chitrasiri recommends strengthening cricket at the provincial level. The chairmen of the provincial cricket board of each of the nine provinces will be in charge of developing the game in that province. The number of votes to elect office bearers to SLC too will be reduced to 20 and the board will appoint its Chairman. The Board’s Chief Executive Officer will be selected through a competitive interview, said the minister.
The reforms the government hopes to enact will ensure the SLC’s independence and transparency, he further claimed.