Spotlight on cricket

Last week’s shocking events in the Pakistani city of Lahore has focussed the spotlight on Sri Lanka’s cricketers like never before even more so than when they won the cricket World Cup thirteen years ago.

Since the attack on Tuesday, many questions have been asked regarding the incident itself. Why was security provided at a level which was clearly mediocre if not insufficient? How could all the attackers get away unscathed? Why were Sri Lankan cricketers targetted? Was there a plan to hold them hostage?

Answers to some of these questions will hopefully emerge in the coming weeks. However, some queries may never yield satisfactory responses. Nevertheless, this is also the best moment to turn the searchlight inwards at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), the institution that is supposedly administering the game in this country.

There have been searching questions as to why SLC undertook to tour Pakistan when countries such as Australia and neighbouring India had refused to do so, citing security reasons.

Minister of Sports Gamini Lokuge has re-iterated that the Government was satisfied with the assurances provided by the Pakistani authorities. Sri Lanka was also reciprocating a gesture by Pakistan during the 1996 World Cup when Australia and the West Indies refused to play in Colombo and Pakistani and Indian cricketers obliged.

Whether there is merit in these arguments or not, there are underlying issues here that need discussion for it is no secret that SLC is in the throes of a power struggle and this has been so for the past several years.
Consider the evidence: The administration has been run by interim committees for some time which have been replaced by other interim committees, former Sri Lanka cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunge himself headed one such committee only to be sacked by the Minister and now SLC is headed by a ‘Competent Authority’.

Indeed, Ranatunge’s appointment itself was a reward for being politically loyal to the ruling party in Parliament. Even if it was so, many welcomed his entry into the arena as he brought with him the promise of a clean administration.

Sadly, Ranatunge may have been an astute cricket captain who won the World Cup for his country but he proved to be an unsuccessful administrator. His naturally abrasive manner quickly brought him into conflict with Minister Lokuge and even some senior players of the team.

Despite his considerable lack of tact, Ranatunge made many allegations against previous administrators and that too in Parliament. To date, these allegations have not been convincingly refuted suggesting that there could be many skeletons in the cupboards at Maitland Place. Ranatunge of course was unceremoniously shown the door and there the matter rests for the time being.

In the meantime, in addition to being in the red financially, SLC’s cricket schedule is in chaos, and is facing the prospect of litigation from would be television sponsors. There is no long term sponsor for the national cricket team and cricket captain Mahela Jayewardene has quit, apparently sick and tired of the interference he has to contend with. Lahore, it seems, was the icing on the cake, in a paradoxical sense of course.

What everyone must now realise is that cricket in this country is not played for peanuts anymore. Whether the purists like it or not, it is a game of big bucks and players have the potential to become superstars and multimillionaires overnight. The recently invented Twenty-20 format only augments this process.

This has made the game a goldmine for those seeking to make a quick buck. For some, getting themselves into the cricket administration has become a means of making their fortune with mega salaries, generous allowances and foreign jaunts up for grabs. But that is all the more reason why the game should be administered with an enhanced degree of transparency.

Still, just as much as our cricketers sport the Sri Lankan jersey and represent the country, it must be realised that appointing officials are also not the personal prerogative of politicians. Similarly, the administration should be cleansed of those who only wish to make profits for themselves from the game.

It is sad that the game’s administration has been allowed to sink into the abyss in which it finds itself today. It is sadder still that the Minister of Sports thinks it fit to dilly dally in the matter of appointing a suitably distinguished body to administer the sport and keeps resorting to interim committees.

There is of course an argument that if elections are held to elect officials of SLC, it would be manipulated and would yield a set of administrators with vested interests and this has happened in the past.

But surely, the last few years is ample testimony that the present state of limbo will not get cricket in this country on the path to recovery. Maybe it is time for intervention from President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself for we need to save the sport that most men, women and children of this country love.
After all, providence may have saved our cricketers last week, but that alone will not be sufficient to salvage the game in Sri Lanka.