'The world we live in is an imperfect place' - Sonn
Percy Sonn, the ICC's ever-entertaining president, regaled the media for nearly 45 minutes after his arrival in Colombo, but the sense of humour was conspicuously absent when it came to his views on South Africa's withdrawal from the tri-nation series that also involved India and Sri Lanka. With the ensuing three-match series between Sri Lanka and India also on the verge of being cancelled, Sri Lanka Cricket is in disarray and looking at a considerable sum in the red.
Sonn, who broke the ice by speaking of his love of the country, trips up north to see the elephants and the efficacy of the local oils, invoked the spirit of cricket when he spoke of South Africa's withdrawal from the tour. "It's always disappointing when cricket is called off," he said. "The spirit of cricket is also about a commitment to play even under the worst circumstances."
There was a chuckle or two when he spoke of his experiences managing a team in the townships - "On a Friday night, I'd have to beat up people to keep them sober for the next day. Some days, if we didn't have enough players, we'd fill in with school boys."
Sonn went on to state that it was now for Sri Lanka Cricket and Cricket South Africa to sit together and decide when the matches could be played. He said that the issue would only be presented before the Dispute Resolution Committee if both countries couldn't come to an agreement on the matter.
While admitting that security was a touchy subject, Sonn stated that cricket had to live with ground realities. 'The world we live in is an imperfect place," he said. 'Every country has some issues. The place where I was born is often referred to as the crime capital of the world, but I have never felt that way. I feel as safe there as I do here.
"We in the cricketing family have to make the most of the situation and look to play at all times. We must go out of our way to ensure that the spirit of cricket overrides all the diversities in our cultures."
Sonn spoke of how the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa had helped bring the country together, and also alluded to Pakistan's tour of India in 1999, with the two countries on the verge of another war, as examples of how sport could have a positive effect on life.
With the ICC's own tournament, the Champions Trophy, due to be held in India in October-November, Sonn said that every precaution had been taken on the security front. "It will be a feast of cricket," he said. "We have an opportunity to create the best of cricket in India, a country where everyone watches the game."
He said that his reaction had been one of "deep disappointment" when he learnt of South Africa's decision to leave Sri Lanka. "It's not for the ICC to judge the South African decision," he said, before going on to add that if all countries were amenable to the idea, the ICC might consider making the security assessment themselves, rather than leaving the responsibility to private agencies.
He said that the decision to ask for an independent opinion, in the wake of South Africa's own security team declaring Colombo unsafe, was part of ICC protocol, put in place after South Africa had dithered prior to their tour of Pakistan in late 2003. He said that Sri Lanka Cricket would have to calculate their losses and then talk to South Africa about rescheduling the matches within the framework of the Future Tours Programme.
The man who was president of the United Cricket Board of South Africa during the last World Cup, laughed when asked what security arrangements had been made for his visit. "They're so efficient that I don't see them," said Sonn with a chuckle. And when someone enquired whether he felt safe where his countrymen had not, he smiled and said: "I'm from Cape Town. We are different."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo