Rex Clementine, Island, 22 December 2018, where the title is “New hope after promise to make cricket corruption free”
Newly appointed Sports Minister Harin Fernando’s claims to take every step possible to make cricket corruption free has struck a responsive chord with all right thinking Sri Lankans. People will be keeping a close eye on the 37-year-old whether he will deliver the promises.
“One of our priorities is to face the anti-corruption charges our cricket is facing at the moment. We will strive to keep the sport clean and help the team get back to winning ways,” Fernando said addressing the media. He has also spoken of putting an individual with an unblemished record to run SLC. This is an indication that the cricket elections scheduled for first week of February will be put off again. Fernando is expected to meet ICC officials to get the clearance to delay the elections.
Let the Minister of Sports be reminded that Sri Lanka is already on borrowed times having delayed the cricket elections several times after a court ruling in May stayed the elections. Whether the ICC will agree for another postponement remains to be seen. If he succeeds in convincing the ICC of delaying the elections who will take over Sri Lanka Cricket is the question? Whether it is Sidath Wettimuny, Roshan Mahanama or Arjuna Ranatunga?
When the government changed in 2015, Fernando was the man tipped to take over the Sports Ministry. But his political bosses felt that with Fernando having played a key role in toppling the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, he should be given a prominent portfolio. Hence he was made the Minster of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure facilities.
A year after the current government came into power at the Cabinet reshuffle, the Ministry of Sports was handed to President Maithripala Sirisena’s fraction allegedly on the insistence of Sirisena loyalist Thilanga Sumathipala. During the one year when UNP had the Sports Ministry, they had brought in Sidath Wettimuny as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket.
Wettimuny had taken necessary steps to amend the Constitution of the SLC with the help of Justice Prasanna Jayawardene, who was a President’s Counsel then. Wettimuny had got the blessings of the ICC as well to remodel the SLC Constitution basing on the South African and Irish cricket constitutions. And then the SLFP was handed the Sports Ministry and Dayasiri Jayasekara did all within his means to put the new constitutions under the carpet.
There are fresh hopes with the arrival of Fernando, who has been given the additional responsibility of Sports while retaining his previous portfolios. But the UNP leadership under Ranil Wickremesinghe is so weak and fragile that the likes of Sumathipala will do all within their means to prevent change and let the status quo exist by pressurizing President Sirisena. For a President who does not respect the country’s Constitution, disregarding the cricket Constitution is child’s play.
If Fernando’s hands were tied and the elections were given the go ahead, he should at least kick out the questionable characters contesting the elections.
SLC chief Thilanga Sumathipala turned a blind eye after prominent members of his Executive Committee fixed a domestic cricket match between Panadura Sports Club and Kalutara Physical and Cultural Club in 2017. Despite two different inquiries firmly pointing fingers at the culprits, two Sports Ministers – Dayasiri Jayasekara and Faizer Mustapaha opted to sweep the investigations under the carpet.
In an affidavit former Test cricketer Chamara Silva, the captain of Panadura who refused to be involved in corrupt practice and didn’t turn up for the questionable third day’s play at Surrey Village, has accused Ravin Wickramaratne as the mastermind behind the fixing. Wickramaratne is contesting for the post of Vice-President.
Another person contesting for the post of Vice-President – Shammi Silva in his capacity as Treasurer of the Executive Committee was one of the key figures responsible for getting rid of Chandramali Korale as the Chief Financial Officer of SLC. The person he recommended to succeed her is currently behind bars for attempting to loot millions of US Dollars that television companies owed Sri Lanka Cricket. A thorough investigation needs to be done on how instructions were passed on to divert money to offshore accounts in Mexico and Hong Kong.
Nishantha Ranatunga, another individual with a questionable track record is contesting for the post of Secretary from the rival camp. His activities during the previous stint as Secretary of SLC between 2009 to 2015 also needs to be probed, particularly stripping Rupavahini’s telecasting rights and handing it over to Carlton Sports Network.
No doubt Interim Committees are the best way forward until SLC changes the constitution. Men like Rienzie Wijetilleke, Hemaka Amarasuriya and Vijaya Malalasekara did fantastic jobs during their fabulous stints. The political will has to be firm and unwavering if the sport is to come out of its current mess.