A senior political analyst based in Colombo writes about corruption charges within the Sri Lankan cricket administration. The original article can be accessed here and has been reproduced in full below.
When former Sri Lankan test captain Hashan Tillekeratne recently claimed that there has been match-fixing in Sri Lankan cricket over the years – for well over a decade – the Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, without batting an eyelid, rejected the allegations and asked him to prove it.
It was symptomatic of what one could call the “Sri Lankan disease” where government or opposition politicians deny any allegation against them or the party they represent irrespective whether it has been inquired into or whether those denying have a clue as to what is going on. This is on any issue.
For example, when Tillekeratne, a member of Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning team in 1996, made the claim last week – days after Sri Lanka lost to India in the final of this year’s edition of cricket’s ultimate challenge – he referred to match-fixing in Sri Lankan cricket at an international level since 1992. Now the Sports Minister was not even around as a part of any establishment at that time. Furthermore he has been in this job as Sports Minister for just a few months after his predecessor, C.B. Ratnayake made strong allegations against administrators at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) – the official body responsible for cricket –, saying they were corrupt (subsequently to claim he was misquoted), and was then removed and given another appointment.
Tillekeratne said earlier this month that match-fixing has been rampant over the years and subsequently in a statement to substantiate his claim, made a statement at a local council, where he is an opposition councilor, saying he will provide the International Cricket Council (ICC) with information at the appropriate time. The 43-year-old said since his allegations, he has been getting nuisance calls and death threats, but would reveal the claims at the right time.
His wife also told reporters that owing to threats to the life of her husband, they were seeking legal advice on these issues.
Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning captain in 1996 who like former Pakistan cricket idol Imran Khan has taken to active politics, also joined the debate saying he too wanted to expose the cricket administration for the corruption that has taken place over the years.
Ranatunga, once a parliamentary member from President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling alliance, is now an opposition legislator backing former army commander and failed presidential election candidate, retired General Sarath Fonseka who has been jailed for two years for misuse of power during his tenure in the army. The government has dismissed the claims by the former cricketers saying these have been politically motivated. Tillekeratne is also related to Fonseka’s family.
Apart from the match-fixing allegations which have shocked Sri Lankans, claims of corruption against current and previous cricket administrations have been swirling around for many years with both Ranatunga and Tillekeratne raising these issues in 2008.
Tillekeratne’s allegations are even more alarming because he says match-fixing took place as far back as the early 1990s, much before former South African captain Hansie Cronje admitted to taking money to lose a match in claims that shocked the world. Cronje, a broken man, died in a plane crash.
For many years, cricket has been led by an interim committee appointed by the Sri Lankan President, often favorites of the administration with a few competent people. Elections to SLC have been suspended for many years owing to in-fighting – helped by politicians from all sides – between cricket clubs who help to fund the administration through subscription fees.
In the current controversy, the ICC declined to comment saying this was a matter for its Anti-Corruption unit while a former President of the Council, Ehsan Mani was appalled that the ICC had failed to respond saying, according to media reports, that it was duty bound to do so with so much corruption and match-fixing taking place. Several international players including Cronje, India’s Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja, and Pakistan’s Salim Malik have been convicted of match-fixing and served bans in the past decade. Bans on Jadeja and Malik were later lifted. Recently Pakistani players Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were banned for five years or more on corruption charges by the ICC.
Twenty20 cricket is the latest edition of the game that is being tainted by allegations of match-fixing but no cricketer has been probed so far. The IPL series in India is drawing such attention with Indian authorities at pains to explain that all measures against corruption are being enforced.
As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the biggest problem – apart from the corruption claims – is the politicization of cricket and any sport for that matter. It is more prominent in cricket because the sport draws millions of TV viewers and millions more in revenue, commissions, etc.
When Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the recent World Cup final in Mumbai between Sri Lanka and India he was apparently disappointed that his host was the Indian President and not the Indian Prime Minister who had played host to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari when the latter visited India for the match between traditional rivals India and Pakistan.
Then newspaper reports claimed that government politicians, angered with Sri Lanka losing the World Cup final, had “persuaded” Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara to step down which he did. But he explained to the media that his decision was taken before the World Cup itself so that the authorities could groom a younger player to take charge of the side leading up to the next World Cup tournament.
Given the sensitivity and threats to self and family, it is most unlikely that Tillekeratne will reveal details to substantiate claims of match-fixing.
For years, while corruption had set in, in the administrative part of the game, the Sri Lanka team has stayed independent of these issues and the politics that surround the game, and played without these issues clouding their performance. However what worries most Sri Lankans is that for the first time, politics has crept into the selection process, impacting on the performance of the players. How this scenario will play out in coming months will be keenly watched by all sides of the spectrum.