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Restoring the Dignity of Sri Lankan Cricketers – Jayasri Priyalal

Cricket is the most popular sport in the country, and there appears to be untapped ample talent amongst aspiring youngsters who are keen to take up this sport. An outcome of a cricket match is always unpredictable; thrilling battles emerge till the last ball is bowled. Though the game is unpredictable, its administration cannot be left in the hands of few unpredictable individuals who impersonate themselves as professionals.

Everything gets politicized in Sri Lanka; this apply to all sports including Cricket.

Poly-ricks of Cricket have now surfaced as the battle for positions in the new administration is getting heated up within influential clans. It is a fact that the current government in power lacks legitimacy as they have not secured a valid mandate from the people. Yet the Minister who functions as responsible for sports removed the Board of Control for Cricket in response to the recent poor performances of the Sri Lankan team in the ICC World Cup matches and appointed an interim committee, which is also challenged in the court of law. The Minister had no courage to question the SLC when they challenged the Auditor General when he highlighted the irregularities of financial transactions of the board.

Priority No. 1: Protecting the Dignity of the Game and the Players 

The Sports minister’s appointment of an interim committee and its mandate is unclear, and the purpose for sure, is not to restore the dignity of the game and players and prepare with a renewed vision and mission for the future.  As reported in the media and from the discussions and debate at the parliament reveals the sole purpose of the new interim committee is just setting a thief to catch a thief.

Cricket in the hands of a few power brokers

Therefore it is clear that the game of Cricket is still in the hands of a few power brokers whose interest is in different areas other than developing the game. Irony is, none of the  current players, coaches, umpires who are the key stakeholders in the game do not find space in the board. For those who believe that the young Sri Lankan talent to perform well and play for their country needs to voice, that the Sri Lankan Cricket to undergo a system change. These critical stakeholders’ voices should be represented in the future administration. A seat at the table should be allocated for an elected representative of the players through their union.

Sri Lankan Cricketers need  to form a Professional Union

Cricketers and all other sportsmen and women too have rights. Moreover, their dignity counts a lot. Individually, none of them could fight for their rights and dignity especially in the hands of sporting administrators who work on hidden agendas and purely to protect their mean individual interest. Cricketers need to unite and exercise their collective strength through a trade union and affiliate with the World Players Association. That is the only way to arrest the interested officials manipulating the ICC and other similar international sporting bodies to protect their self interest at the expense of the sporting careers of young Sri Lankan talent.

How to Initiate the System Change for Sri Lankan Cricket

Those who cannot cope with change are unlikely to initiate change in any field, be it politics or sport. Instead of being innovative and creative to take the sport to new heights; those who are  well settled in their respective comfort zones; do repeat the old tactics, power play pretending that they are doing everything for the betterment of the sport, camouflaged with hidden agendas with  esteem individual needs, interests and gains. As many of them are seasoned politicians they cleverly navigate the battle, taking lessons from mockery of representative democracy.

Organizations that cope with change successfully; possess a clear sense of direction, an uninterrupted sense of continuity and a sense of connectivity for sustainability and continuous progress. Aside from all three senses, Sri Lankan Cricket is grappling even without common sense and purpose. This article collates a few ideas for those who are keen to revive the much-loved game of cricket.

This author wishes to be hard on the problem, to find a better solution to uplift Sri Lankan Cricket instead of blaming individuals for their commissions and omissions. This write up is an initiative to brainstorm those who are in love with the game of cricket inviting their thinking to devise a proper structure and an effective strategy to take Sri Lankan cricketing talent forward.

ICC suspends Sri Lanka cricket with immediate effect

Sense of Direction of Sri Lanka Cricket, is there any?  Since the country won the world cup in 1996, Sri Lankan team has entered the finals of the world cup competition many times but was not successful in becoming champions.

Was there any strategic plan prior to winning the world cup in 1996?

The answer is yes.

Under the leadership of Mr Ana Punchihewa a strategic plan was devised for Sri Lanka Cricket by Mr T M Jayasekera management consultant  expert.  It was reported that the Vision statement of the plan was; “Sri Lanka to become the best Test Playing Team by the year 2000”.

This is the sense of direction that was set for Sri Lanka Cricket which enabled the team to win the world cup in 1996. I am sure this plan must be available in the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, and those stakeholders who associated and contributed in developing the strategic plan could share the insights. Since then I wonder whether similar efforts have been put in place by the cricket administration in Sri Lanka.  This author believes the second curve of Sri Lankan Cricket needs to start by revisiting the strategic plan that was put in place in the early nineteen nineties.

Sense of Continuity, Cricket is not the most popular sport in England or in the United Kingdom. Football being the common man’s game, cricket still enjoys an elite status in England.  Our colonial masters introduced cricket in the same fashion and maintained the elite status, through various clubs which essentially represented high society. Cricket was also played in elite schools such as, Kingswood, Richmond, Royal, S. Thomas’s, St. Anthony’s and Trinity.

Battle of the Blues, the Royal-Thomian annual cricketing encounter is one of the oldest tournaments in the world. 

Since independence the game of cricket became popular in Sri Lanka and even other schools such as Ananda, Nalanda, Mahinda, Hartley and Jaffna Colleges introduced the game and produced many talented cricketers for Sri Lanka. Shorter versions of the game, ODI and T20 series made the game interesting and all Sri Lankan households started to watch the game through the television and the Cricketers became their sporting hero.  Cricket has now become a part of Sri Lankan culture, so popular all matches are heavily patronized by the fans and generate good cash flows for clubs and for tournaments such as Indian Premier League.

There are a large group of stakeholders in the game at present. The game has changed, rules have changed but the administrative structure introduced by our colonial master’s remains in the hands of few; they are supposed to be in the gentleman’s club in charge of the gentlemen’s game. Compatibility and effectiveness of the yesteryears – outdated – structure is questionable and needs urgent restructuring. A new stakeholder analysis has to be initiated by the Ministry of Sports to put in place a modern structure to administer the sport. First step to identify the true causes for the declining trend of the game.

Sense of Connectivity:  It was also reported that raising a fund of US$ 2 Million by 2000 for the development of cricket was another key objective of the strategic plan developed in the early nineties. Since winning the World Cup and other tournaments the target set would have been reached well in advance. As usual, money attracts the wrong people for good causes; as money is what money does. Abuse, misuse, corruption, and debts connected with Sri Lankan Cricket touch headlines very often, but no one is found at fault or punished for misappropriation of funds.

Sri Lanka Cricket leading to abuse and corruption

The Auditor General of the country revealed the non-transparent activities of Sri Lanka Cricket leading to abuse and corruption.  Sri Lankan Cricket administration members questioned the mandate jurisdiction of the parliamentary select committee to investigate and comment on the irregularities. They had the audacity to challenge the Auditor General’s authority to scrutinize the accounts and transactions of SLC.

Match-fixing

The yesteryear’s philanthropists, multinational and local companies, banks, and state institutions who patronized the game disappeared and players remain at the mercy of the Sri Lankan Cricket board. Human egos and aspirations of upcoming sportsmen-young talent- are being thoroughly exploited by the opportunists, and very often innocent become victims of match-fixing and other malpractices. To arrest these unpleasant situations the cricketers need to form their union and get affiliated to international professional trade union federations.

Seedbeds of Sri Lankan Cricket are the school cricket teams. Young budding cricketers emerge from every nook and corner of the Island. Those school cricket coaches, ground staff, umpires are the new important stakeholders of the game  who should become part of  deciding stakeholders; on the election of cricket administration of the country through their respective national and regional associations and the trade unions. School cricket captains in various age groups, club captains of different national tournaments should be included to cast their vote in electing the SLC officials beside the club officials who currently have the monopoly to decide on the election of officials.

The way forward for Sri Lankan Cricket

A professional stakeholder analysis should be able to spot the other interest groups as well. Moreover, the national players past and present categorized under different age groups should also be allowed to vote as they know the game and the people very well, and certainly we can count on them as they will always be committed to promoting Cricket for the future. This is the way forward for Sri Lankan Cricket.

Fair play and level playing field are key phrases introduced by sports to the commercial world. Unfortunately the commercial world and profit motives and greed of individuals have ruined all sports across the globe. Sports industry has now become a shadow finance industry, and medium for money laundering through gambling match fixing in real and virtual world as well, as businessmen are quite capable of sensing profits and opportunities from a distance.

Before summing up this article; let me share some facts reported about the turnover of the past FIFA World Cup tournament.

Money is what Money Does

Turnover of one FIFA World cup tournament was approximately US$ 4.5 Billion (This includes advertising, broadcasting, telecasting rights, ticket sales etc) the prize money available for the players was approximately US$ 225 Million. The difference is huge to attract un-sporty people to manage World Football. It may be interesting to find out the total turnover of the ICC World Cup 2023 as well.  This is the mathematics behind all premier leagues and tournaments.

Let me conclude; Money is what Money Does. This is the reason the writer argues that the sports industry has become a shadow finance industry helping tax dodges and bookmakers, and money launderers.  As revealed in the media SLC is a rich organization with scarce foreign exchange approximately to the tune of US$ 50 Million. When the country is grappling with its unsustainable debt, the pool of money -as foreign exchange-will certainly becomes an attractive pot to unsporty people.

In conclusion, our priorities first lie in resurrecting the sagging Sri Lankan economy into a growth path instilling confidence in our people that we all can forge toward a prosperous future with a envisioned political leadership.

For that to happen we all need to rally around for a system change that the majority of Sri Lankans are aspiring under a new administration with a proper mandate enabling the entire nation to take ownership in driving that change for shared prosperity for all. So, let’s begin with keeping the end in mind, let’s revive cricket and the Sri Lankan economy with a system change that works to uplift the many and not to the benefit of serving highly connected few and make it exclusive.

17th November 2023.

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