By Emil van der Poorten
A daily newspaper of June 1st had a screaming, front-page banner headline that read, “Cricket Board third most corrupt institution in Sri Lanka.”
Headlines of this kind are hardly a rarity in our ‘land like no other,’ however what distinguished this particular report was the fact that it was the Sports Minister, C. B. Ratnayake, who’d made the statement. It’s hard to ignore something that comes right from the horse’s mouth, as it were.
The body of the report contained some fascinating, if not unexpected, news. Among the tidbits was the fact that two nephews of the Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket had been offered positions paying in excess of Rs. 200,000 and Rs. 600,000 per month, respectively, not so much as advertising the two sinecures!
There was also mention of the fact that efforts had been made to bribe the Minister and two companions of his choice with an ‘all expenses paid’ trip to the Caribbean, something that he had turned down flat. That, my friends, is about all the good news there is: the new broom’s seeming incorruptibility.
The bad news is that Sri Lanka Cricket’s current exposure is but the tip of an iceberg of venality and unethical conduct in pretty much all the national sports organisations which have one thing in common: they are controlled by the government.
The comedy which is the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) has recently had yet another (unexpected) chapter written with a man who had waited patiently in the wings to assume the mantle of presidency being ‘persuaded’ to step aside in favour of the head of the Air Force, Roshan Goonetilleke, someone who had, no pun intended, seemingly come out of the blue to seek the head honcho’s position.
How it began
That mess, in the SLRFU, began with Nimal Lewke muscling in, at an earlier date, to displace the same unfortunate who has now chosen to concede. Within a year, Mr. L left a monumental mess, leading to the appointment of one of those typically Sri Lankan and execrable units of sports administration, an interim committee. Coincidentally, however, one of first things that happened after Lewke took command of the SLRFU was for a young man bearing the same last name to take a trip to New Zealand!
The Interim Committee, with a second-in-command who had no connections whatsoever to the sport, proceeded to produce more cock-ups than even the most pessimistic of observers might have expected. All in all, it has led the international body controlling the sport to issue a final warning (together with a deadline which expired on June 1st) for an elected body to assume control of the sport.
The alternative? Sri Lanka to be kicked off the list of nations recognised by the International Rugby Board, ensuring that no affiliated nation would be permitted to play against our national team. The jury is still out on this business and one can only hope that the required steps will be taken to restore Sri Lanka’s respectability in international rugby circles.
Let’s face it, the administration of Sri Lankan rugby over the years was never perfect. The Colombo clubs and, in the days of the British Raj, some of the up-country clubs wielded a disproportionate amount of authority and influence over such things as regional or national team selections. However, the manipulation and influence-peddling was never as blatant as to lead to two captains being appointed to captain a team in order to accommodate the man picked by the Selection Committee as well as the son of a man wielding considerable clout in one of Sri Lanka’s international sports organisations.
The highest in the land appear to select some of those that represent this country in international competition despite all norms of fairness and justice requiring otherwise. We have the spectacle of a cricketer who, having already had his shelf-life extended on the direction of the powers-that-be, appears to have decided how long he is going to represent the country by virtue of his now being an elected member of the national legislature.
A committee of inquiry into the mess that is the National Badminton Association has revealed corruption that has led the members of that committee to direct that criminal investigations be conducted into the conduct of that organisation’s affairs with a view to taking legal action against the miscreants.
The appointment of yet another Interim Committee (IC) to run tennis in this country ended with that IC running that sport (and itself!) into the ground and then handing the whole mess back to the minister with a request that the governing body for that sport be re-constituted in traditional form. That was one of the more unusual outcomes from one of those notorious ICs being imposed on a national sports organisation.
This is but a sampling of what goes on in Sri Lanka’s sports scene. One could write a quite substantial book with significant entertainment value about the shenanigans in the sports arena.
As in the Sri Lankan nation’s other affairs, the solution does not lie in appointing more interim committees, presidential commissions, etc. etc. It lies in the existing rules and regulations being adhered to.
Most important: the basic solution lies in principled, ethical and honest behaviour being the norm rather than the exception. That, however, given the current culture of this land, is more easily said than done. How on earth do you have sports organisations conduct their affairs in this manner when the accepted manner of ‘doing business’ is through the application of bribery, corruption, theft and worse?
The government’s role, if it continues to insist on having a role, should be to fulfill an oversight function, ensuring that democratically elected sports bodies conduct their respective sports in the manner required by their organisations’ constitutions, by laws, rules and regulations.
This is not a complex or complicated task requiring the brilliance of a neuro-surgeon or a rocket scientist. It requires the application of common sense but, most important, it requires honesty. The difficulty in creating this kind of culture lies in what the Minister said in the rest of the quote with which I opened this column. That read: “The most corrupt institution in the country is education. Then we have the police…”
If the education system and the police are considered the two most corrupt institutions in Sri Lankan life, can one project any kind of optimism in the matter of honest and principled conduct on the part of sports administrators who are, in the greater scheme of things, inconsequential?