The Rajapaksa family, believed to be most powerful political dictatorship that ruled Sri Lanka, has finally succumbed to the powerful force of a ‘united democratic people’s front’. Voters turned out in record numbers to vote in favor of removing a dictatorship alleged to be corrupt, criminal and abusive. If ‘yahapalanaya’ is the new way forward, then the one of the areas of focus in the coming months should be on investigating allegations of corruption within all entities of public interest and punishing the guilty. Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), once accused as being one of the most corrupt entities in the country by a Rajapaksa appointed sports minister, will be one such entity that all cricket loving people will be closely watching.
It is no secret that SLC has been directly influenced by the Rajapaksa rule. The Carlton Sports Network’s TV deal is an example of one of the most blatant acts of political influence within the cricket board. CSN, owned by Rajapaksa sons Yoshitha and Namal, was established in March 2011 when international cricket could only be broadcasted by state-owned media. In 2011, the Rajapaksa government amended broadcasting regulations to make way for dedicated sports channels like CSN to broadcast international cricket. Soon after that, CSN was awarded broadcasting rights for cricket in Sri Lanka under highly controversial circumstances. Prior to this TV deal, Nishantha Ranatunga had been appointed as the secretary of SLC by the Rajapaksa government. Nishantha Ranatunga was also the CEO of CSN when the TV deal tender process was executed. The controversy and obvious abuse of political power surrounding the CSN deal was challenged in the parliament and was also highlighted in the COPE report where Nishantha Ranatunga’s involvement and resulting conflict of interest was pointed out. However, such was the state of affairs at the time that all attempts at a proper investigation were simply swept under the carpet.
In spite of all the controversy, Nishantha Ranatunga, a close confidant of the Rajapaksa family, was retained as the secretary of SLC, either by appointment or through elections where he was the only one contesting the position of secretary. Ranatunga is believed to be the most powerful voice within the SLC executive board. In the past several years, SLC has been alleged of aligning itself directly with the best interest of former president Rajapaksa and not necessarily cricket. The construction of the Hambantota cricket stadium, which almost bankrupted SLC, is a case in point. The extent of the political influence within SLC had grown so much that even the chief selector and some of his co-selectors are also directly associated with Rajapaksa politics. Selections of Ramith Rambukwella, the son of a minister, and two sons of Hashan Tillakaratne are two of the most controversial decisions made by these selectors.
SLC, under the current leadership, has faced many other allegations of wrong-doing, corruption, favoritism, financial mismanagement and financial mishandling. All such allegations have been dismissed either by its powerful caretakers (such as the sports minister) as merely acts of mudslinging by political adversaries and have been simply swept under the carpet. Even when official investigations have been initiated, key evidence had mysteriously disappeared, making the prosecution of the guilty impossible. If and when the media attempted to expose corruption within SLC, they were silenced. Not even the might of Arjuna Ranatunga, who tirelessly fought to protect the integrity of cricket, could stop the freedom afforded to those running SLC to do exactly what they want, how, when and wherever they want. There has been no transparency or accountability for actions within SLC.
Thankfully, for those who love SLC, times have changed and the prospect of a corruption free SLC has emerged. Not just the cricket fans but even the general public of Sri Lanka have the right to demand investigations in to all allegations against SLC. It is after all the people who pay the price for state sponsored corruption.
It is crucial to the Sri Lankan public who voted for a new beginning under the promise of ‘yahapalanaya’, that all allegations of corruption within SLC be investigated. It is alleged that million of dollars, not rupees, have been lost to Sri Lankan cricket due to politically influenced corrupt conduct by SLC.
A short list of such activities that would require the fullest attention and investigation are:
- The construction of a cricket stadium in the most unsuitable location;
- All expenses attributed to the construction of the cricket stadium in Hambantota;
- A complete audit of all financial activities of SLC;
- Potential abuse of authority by SLC executives for personal financial gain;
- A complete investigation of all major contracts awarded by SLC;
- An inquiry into the SLPL saga;
Amidst all of these allegations, SLC has continued to burry itself in financial turmoil. So grave is the financial situation within SLC, that even its cricket-decisions are often based on not what is in the best interest of cricket, but money. The recent ill-advised cricket tour to India is a perfect example.
Cricket is like religion to most people in Sri Lanka and it deserves the highest attention. During the unfortunate times of political dictatorship, SLC fell prey to the greed and abuse of a selected few. As the country emerges from a dictatorship and looks to a better future, Sri Lankan cricket fans will be hoping for a free, fair, democratic and prosperous future for Sri Lankan cricket!
Sri Lanka Cricket Run Out … and run over by Hambantota