June 20, 2001

Dambulla to host triangular matches after political pressure

The Sri Lankan cricket board confirmed today that Dambulla would host three triangular matches with India and NewZealand in July, despite the ongoing controversy over the ownership of the 36-acre plot of land on which the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium was constructed.

Last week the Interim Committee announced that they were trying to switch the Dambulla games to Kandy or Galle. The decision to change venues, however, ran into trouble when ground authorities in Kandy revealed that they couldn't prepare the pitches in time and the normal team hotel in Galle, the Lighthouse, did not have enough rooms to cater for three teams.

Ultimately, though, the decision to stay in Dambulla was forced upon the cricket authorities by vehement protests from the Chief Buddhist Priest of the Asgiriya Chapter, and, more importantly, the Chief Minister of North Central Province, who wrote directly to the Sports Minister yesterday and is believed to have taken up the matter personally with Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the Sri Lankan President.

The Chief Minister warned the Sports Minister, Kaksmann Kiriella, of potentially severe political repercussions if the match was not played in Dambulla. He claimed to have an obligation to his constituents to bring international cricket to the province.

The Interim Committee was contacted yesterday by Dr. Ramunujan, Sports Ministry Secretary, and was informed that the matches had to played in Dambulla. No reason was given for the directive.

Nevertheless, the controversy over legal ownership of the venue rumbles on. According to probe committee appointed by the Sports Minister they could find no evidence to confirm that the Sri Lankan cricket had acquired legal ownership of the 36-acre plot of land from the Asgiriya Chapter.