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Showdown Or Surrender?

May 29, 2010 3:10:17 PM - thesundayleader.lk
  • The first of the two-part SLRFU AGM now over, is the final part going to be…

Just as two previous attempts failed to assemble the required quorum, a third bid last week to nail-down the elusive AGM of the SLRFU also came up short. Of the eight constituent-members that make up the union, only the Central Province RFU and the Schools Association showed up, a sum three less than the number prescribed by the constitution.
But whereas the lack of a quorum precluded the AGM twice previously, the Sports Ministry, the conveners, on the third occasion went ahead with the meeting – and elections – anyway. To say the least, the move is controversial and contestable in court.

God help the good game

But whether there’s any one willing to entangle in a litigation that would attract more than the cursory interest of some powerful government politicians is, well, just let’s say, litigation is not a thing called happiness.
It is, however, pretty plain to see that the AGM of last week is riddled with legal loopholes. For one thing, it doesn’t make sense why an exception was made as regards the required quorum for the third bid and not the first two – after all, it’s not as if the third bid was freed of the legal impediment that had stalled the first two attempts.
It was also obvious that, given the Sport Ministry’s determination to hold the AGM one way or other (for reasons which we’ll talk about later), the quorum-rule was always going to be bent sooner or later. So it has to be asked why the rule wasn’t bent in the first instance – which would have installed an elected committee more than a month ago and so saved the SLRFU some face before the IRB and by extension, the international rugby community.
Before we discuss the implications of recognising an AGM held in contravention of the SLRFU constitution, it is necessary to record first the proceedings of last week’s meeting that, to give it a polite description, was unique, being the first of a two-part AGM, itself utterly unconstitutional. For reasons that are now public knowledge, there weren’t enough nominations to fill all of the posts last week. The jobs filled: Vice President (Lasitha Guneratne), Treasurer (Kiran Atapattu) and three of the seven council slots set aside for elected members. All three were Central Province RFU nominees, one of whom declined in apparent doubt of the AGM’s legitimacy.
So what we have is a skeletal SLRFU. It takes its full form at a Special General Meeting (read: AGM Part 2) tomorrow when the key posts of president and secretary, as well the balance five elected council members are to be filled.
In its 130-year history, rugby hasn’t ever been brought to a ridiculous situation such as this. This is not to say that rugby was always administered pristinely; intense club rivalry bred politics of its own kind. But open the door to career politicians and the running of sport becomes quite another ball game, as vouched by the endless controversies cricket has run into since government-appointed interim committees began presiding over the game more than a decade ago.
An interim committee might have come more recently to rugby, but its year in office has been plagued by disputes just as much as cricket has. Since its coming into being in 2009 February, rugby’s time-honoured traditions have been sacrificed to pander to personal ambitions. For instance, the duties of national selectors under the IC were handed to an outside body so that the son of a powerful figure would be given the captaincy, an appointment the national rugby selectors wouldn’t hear of. Rugby’s hassles over the past year have been frequent and many, including a run-in with the IRB. But I digress.
We were on the questionable conduct of AGM Part 1. At another time, there would’ve been a rush to court to seek an enjoining order on the controversially-elected committee, remembering that more mundane issues, like arguable selections or choice of venues found willing plaintiffs. But times are a-different now.
Among those aspiring for office, there’s a perceptible sense of futility as regard taking issues to court, given the extent of political involvement in sport. It isn’t surface involvement either; a glaring example being the rescinding of a two-year ban imposed on a Navy player for shop lifting while on national duty in Singapore. Interference in national selections, particularly of captaincy, is commonplace.
Apparently, because of a realization of the futility of opposing political involvement, the grapevine has it that, those officials who vociferously insisted on an AGM adhering to the constitution (meaning, with the required quorum) are now coming round to accepting last week’s AGM as legitimate. It is easy to conclude that backroom deals are being struck.
One deal that is being whispered: Arjun Dharmadasa, aspirant for vice presidency, settles for the secretary’s job and his VP rival, retired IC CEO, Guneratne’s job as number two goes unchallenged. If only Dharmadasa had agreed to this arrangement in the first place than talk of lofty principles, we wouldn’t have been led to believe that there remains some upright men yet to watch over rugby.
The choice of the next SLRFU president is no less a jigsaw. Asanga Seneviratne, vice president in the post-IC administration and IC member himself, would have to be the logical heir. The IC’s decision to nominate him as the country’s representative to the IRB Congress last November, as well as the undivided support pledged by the provincial unions, made Seneviratne’s appointment as president a given.
Lately, that scenario seems less certain. A high-ranking Air Force officer, insiders say, is being persuaded to take the top job – persuaded by a former SLRFU president, whose two-year term was anything but a model of efficient management. The alleged entry of the Air Force officer might surprise many, but not those who know officials in rugby administration can sometimes be made pawns in the power game.
Seneviratne, it has to be said, has always been critical of an interim committee administration for rugby and voiced support for a return to elected governance. So perhaps, the two IC members ‘elected’ last week likely presume that Seneviratne could oppose their scheme of things – and probably want a candidate to block the heir apparent. It’s not an ideal situation that Seneviratne finds himself: he’ll have to choose to either contest the top Air Force officer, should he run for office, or strike a deal of sort with men who apparently want to be the power behind the throne.
The sum total of all this: government involvement in the running of sport is increasingly becoming a fact of life. Long left in the hands of elected officials to run sport, mostly by one-time sportsmen, the new trend naturally is cause for concern, especially given the many misdeeds, not excluding financial jiggery-pokery, of government-appointed interim committees.
But government involvement isn’t unwholesome per se. After all, government resources available to sport are immense. Sport backed by government power isn’t a bad thing either – not, though, the assumption that sport’s ownership is the government’s. Unfortunately, some of the rather dubious decisions (like terminating cricket’s TV rights to A so as to give same to B and then, after just a series or two, hand back the rights to A) by the previous sports minister made it look as if sport belonged to the government and so was entitled to do what he pleases – even if it displeased a majority of the officials and sports followers.
Such attitudes are what has put rugby in the mess it can’t quite come out of. Unless the right men get the jobs in AGM Part Two, then, well, just let’s say, God help the good game.