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Player contract saga – SLC an incompetent employer guided by forces with ulterior motives?

The current Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) administrators have repeatedly claimed that modern day cricket has changed so much since the 90s, that it has to be treated as a business if Sri Lanka is to keep pace with the fast changing dynamics within global cricket. The thought of mixing cricket with money is something that those who played the game for nothing more than the honour and glory of representing the country struggle to accept. However, even some of those critiques have come to acknowledge that today’s “professional cricket” needs to be managed with a business focus, if we are to ensure that SLC maximizes the value of their precious resource, their best cricketers. A growing number of Sri Lankan cricket fans have accepted the cricket board’s claim that cricket needs to be run like a business, but only with the hope and trust that it is run like a ‘good business’, by an efficient and competent employer who is guided by a board of directors (BOD) who have nothing but the best interest of Sri Lanka cricket at heart.

Unfortunately for the fans, SLC has proven to be nothing more than a perfect example of an incompetent employer, guided by a BOD (political powers that guide it) with ulterior motives. Going by the financial results of SLC over the past few years, especially since the 2010 World Cup, it is beyond any reasonable doubt that cricket administrators have failed the country, their stockholders. This business of Sri Lanka cricket has only been kept alive by government (who is pretty much the BOD guiding SLC) bailouts funded by public money. Guided by a BOD who have manipulated the sport to promote their political and financial motives, the executives have engaged in questionable and wasteful activities (enough has already been mentioned on this topic that we will not need to go in to detail) that have driven SLC to financial turmoil. To further highlight the severity of mismanagement, all of this financial failures have come at a time when Sri Lanka’s cricketers have enjoyed one of the most successful periods in international cricket, if not the most successful period ever. Imagine a corporation like Apple losing money and facing bankruptcy at a time when their products have made them a market leader and are seeing the greatest demand ever? That could most likely have happened only if the company was poorly managed and not because of their products. In reality, with a well-run company like Apple, this scenario surely would never have taken place. Apple’s BOD would have acted immediately if there was even the hint of mismanagement by executives.

In Sri Lanka, we now have a situation similar to the hypothetical scenario we discussed with respect to Apple. Our cricketers have been making it to the final of every prestigious ICC limited overs events. Our team, even after the retirements of legends like Murali, Vass, Marvan and Sanath, have remained competitive in Test cricket as well, including wins in South Africa and against then number-one England. Yet, our cricket board is in financial turmoil. The difference in this real life scenario facing our cricket and the hypothetical Apple scenario is that the BOD seems to have done little, if anything, to address the incompetent management. Perhaps the lack of action is a result of the unwillingness to publicly acknowledge failure and punish those who are responsible. Unless you are part of SLC, there is no denying the fact that SLC is in financial turmoil. When initially taking office, the current SLC president admitted to the gravity of the situation and also explained it will take at least five years to turn things around. However, he has changed his outlook now and like the sports minister, wants us to believe that it is just a few outstanding loans that are the only blemish on their financials.

The current contract dispute does little to hide the obvious, that SLC is in deep trouble. What is in the best interest of Sri Lanka cricket right now is for everyone involved to stop pointing fingers at each other and focus on doing what is best for SLC’s future. This includes players making some compromises as well, even though most of this isn’t their fault. However, if we are to expect players to make compromises, then the first thing that needs to happen is that the BOD show the country that they are also making the necessary changes at the administrative end as well. In arguing their case for disputed contract clauses, SLC points out that they could only afford to compensate players according to ‘Sri Lankan standards’. Yet what had not been made clear is what SLC’s administrators are doing to change their failed methods of managing SLC or the board (sports minister and other political influences to be specific) is doing about failed administrators. This same group of administrators only recently paid millions to have a foreigner tell them how to run local cricket, only to turn around and make a mockery of it by doing the exact opposite of what was recommended by that consultant (i.e. appointment of politicians to high profile positions within SLC). They have added new coaching staff (not replaced) at salaries certainly not reflective of ‘Sri Lankan standards’. The same individuals who were part of administrations that have crippled SLC are elected to the same positions uncontested. So much for democracy! The same administrators who fired the team manager, stating that they intend on utilising paid selectors to also double as manager, have now replaced the position, rumoured to be at a higher salary. These same administrators also introduced two ‘paid selectors’ at salaries surely above ‘Sri Lankan standards’. These same administrators were also successful in selling local TV rights to a company owned by well-connected individuals at a price that was well below what SLC could have earned.

In order to get the best out of our cricketers, SLC should pave a middle ground that both SLC and the players can walk without conflict. That middle ground needed to have been paved with both sides making honest attempts to work towards what is best for SLC. With their latest actions, SLC seems to want players to make all of the compromises, but have not come out with anything to indicate how they, SLC, plan to lead by example. There is absolutely no doubt, players should compromise on some of the items being disputed. But without SLC or their BOD showing any reasonable attempt to clean up how the business is run, the latest resolution is only a ceasefire temporarily delaying an ugly collision!

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