Kumar Sangakkara gave a wide-ranging and very interesting speech on the spirit of cricket. It is notable that cricket has reached the pinnacle of awesomeness in the subcontinent, but also its nadir of shame.
For every 1996 World Cup or IPL thrill, there is a story of corruption or match-fixing. The challenge for cricket is maintaining the vigor of play while still remaining a gentleman’s game, or at least a fan’s one.
Sanga’s Speech (Excerpts)
For Sri Lanka to be able to select a national team it must have membership of the Sports Ministry… It is indeed a unique system where the board nominated selectors can at any time be overruled and asked to reselect a side already chosen…
Unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent then we risk alienating the common man… It is their passion that powers cricket and if they turn their backs on cricket then the whole system will come crashing down…
The solution to this may be the ICC taking a stand to suspend member boards with any direct detrimental political interference and allegations of corruption or mismanagement.
Between The Lines
If you read between the lines he’s saying that there is direct political interference (from the Sports Minister). He is also implying this was what was behind the World Cup debacle, where Sri Lanka changed a successful squad at the last minute and lost due largely to that mistake. He is saying that this a bad thing, and the recent ICC moves are in the right direction. Which is pretty bold.
The response of Sri Lankan politicians to the corruption and epic failings has been much like an Arab dictator. Reshuffle or sack the cricket board. Nevermind that the problem is the top, in this case the Sports Minister and probably the President. Sanga is saying that the balance of power is held by the fans, which is rather revolutionary if you think about it.
By supporting the ICC decision (in an extremely politically correct way), Sanga is actually taking a stand against the politicians. If you look at the recent ICC decision, it is this:
“The ICC Annual Conference unanimously supported a proposal to amend the ICC Articles of Association to provide for the important principle of free elections and the independence of Member Boards.”
In a roundabout way, I think he’s rightly calling for more than a reshuffle of the board, he’s calling for an end to political interference altogether.
While Sri Lankans are incredibly tolerant of corruption and waste in all matters of governance, seeing it in cricket is something else. More accurately, Sri Lankans are all right with corruption and waste as long as there are net results. In the case of the cricket administration, mismanagement is having clearly terrible results. For example:
World Cup Fail: The administration replaced nearly half the team and lost when those players played badly
IPL Fail: They tried to pull Sri Lankans out of the IPL and failed, losing face and gaining nothing.
Test Cricket Fail: They tried to force an injury prone Lasith Malinga to play test matches, to which he responded by quitting the format entirely.
SLPL Fail: They tried to start their own premier league which is now postponed.
Media Fail: They quite annoyingly documented all their flailing about via constant SMS alerts.
Who’s to blame? Well, the proper question is, who can do anything about it? Mahinda Rajapaksa. The President is intimately involved with cricket and he should not be. He appoints the Sports Minister and that Sports Minister is messing stuff up and interfering. He is consolidating all real power within his family, so the buck rightly has to stop there.
What To Do?
The steps out of this mess are actually quite clear, as Sanga has outlined. The recent amendments to the ICC Constitution should simply be followed.
This means setting up a truly independent board. This is not a choice so much as a legal necessity in order to remain an international team.
It all seems pretty obvious, but you can count on the administration to – when in a hole – dig deeper. What is their response to the reality of Sanga’s speech? An investigation. Into the speech. They could start by listening to it.