Sri Lanka news January 3, 2012

Dharmadasa elected unopposed in SLC elections

Upali Dharmadasa has been elected unopposed as president of Sri Lanka Cricket, along with the rest of his team, in the board's first election in seven years. The election, overseen by the sports ministry, was marked by the late withdrawal of all opposition candidates.

Nishantha Ranatunga was voted in uncontested as secretary and Nuski Mohamed was elected treasurer. The only election to be contested was for the post of assistant treasurer, with Ajitha Pasqual defeating Susantha Fernando. All those elected will serve a one-year term.

Mohan de Silva, one of the candidates for vice-president, told ESPNcricinfo that the entire opposition had decided not to contest the elections as a "symbolic gesture of protest" against what they saw as political interference in the election process. "Most of our member clubs and associations brought to our notice that there was undue pressure put on them to change the delegates [who would vote]."

According to him, they brought the matter to the notice of the Director General of Sports, Ranjani Jayakody, who was overseeing the election, but she told them she was going to accommodate all changes until the morning of the elections even though the deadline to nominate the delegates had passed.

In light of her decision, and to safeguard what de Silva called "the gentleman's game", he and his team decided to withdraw. "This is not an election held for a government institution. This is an independent institution," he said. "So it becomes a farce. Therefore all of us decided this election is not conducted in a free and fair manner."

However Jayakody, denied that there had been any pressure and said the delegates represented the views of clubs and therefore their individual preferences were not of any consequence. "The concerned parties can take necessary legal action," she told reporters. "I held a fair election."

Despite his views on the election, De Silva said they intended to support the new committee and work together for the progress of the game since Sri Lankan cricket is going through a difficult situation. "There is no animosity," he said.

The biggest challenge the new committee faces is that the board is about $70 million in debt, following stadium-related expenses for the 2011 World Cup, including the construction of two new stadia in Pallekele and Hambantota and the renovation of the Premadasa Stadium.

Dharmadasa acknowledged the magnitude of the problem and said it "will be a struggle for about five years" for SLC to get back on its financial feet. He is hopeful that the government will come to the sport's aid in the short term, and that SLC can raise significant revenues from India's tour in July and the World Twenty20 tournament in September. He also intends to execute a cost-cutting plan that will reduce administrative overheads by as much as 60%.

The high cost over-runs are being blamed on the interim DS de Silva administration, in which Ranatunga also served as SLC secretary. The stadia are now being maintained by the government, with the army, navy and air force each looking after one stadium. The players were not paid for eight months between the 2011 World Cup final and the Test series in South Africa, and are still owed over 50% of their salaries for that period.

The press conference was held inside the Ministry of Sports, and both the Director General and Dharmadasa were subjected to extended questioning (in Sinhalese) by a number of reporters. In the absence of a moderator, each journalist was free to ask multiple follow-up questions. In one instance, a reporter asked the new president five or six consecutive questions, but Dharmadasa appeared happy to answer all of them. Most of the questions dealt with the circumstances surrounding the election and SLC's financial situation.

Dharmadasa was president of SLC from 1996 to 1998 and also headed the last interim board before it was dissolved. Since 2004, the SLC has been run by interim committees - nine in all - controlled by the government, and the election itself is a fallout of the ICC's ruling that requires all member boards to be free of political interference from 2012.

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

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