Sri Lanka news February 8, 2013

SLC and sports minister clash over TV rights

Sri Lanka Cricket president Upali Dharmadasa has accused sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage of politically motivated mudslinging, after SLC and the minister clashed over the TV rights deal currently being negotiated with Ten Sports. The minister rejected SLC's proposal to grant broadcast rights to Ten Sports on Thursday, and directed SLC to call for tenders instead. SLC's current contract with Ten Sports expires on March 31, and as per that contract, SLC can only move to a tender process for the broadcast rights for the following term, if negotiations with Ten Sports fall through.

Dharmadasa's accusation had been provoked by a statement from the sports ministry, which named Dharmadasa as the sole party requesting a new deal with Ten Sports. "I am considering further action on this media release which is an attempt to tarnish my name," Dharmadasa told the Daily Mirror. "With the SLC elections getting nearer, I can imagine why such attempts at mud-slinging are taking place. I won't take this insult lightly." The next SLC elections are scheduled for March.

Dharmadasa said the decision to enter into a new deal with Ten Sports was made by a committee, and he was being unfairly singled out. "The secretary of the sports ministry sat at this committee, along with six other committee members. We weren't trying to do things without the ministry's knowledge. From the first negotiation meeting itself, someone from the ministry was present. We had spoken repeatedly to the minister about this in several meetings as well.

"After so many rounds of talks, it is shocking that the minister had to issue a press release without discussing the matter with SLC first."

In addition to having to give Ten Sports first right of refusal, SLC were further hamstrung by a clause that required the board to deliver two full home tours against India in the four-year contract period, of which only one was played, in 2010. As a result, SLC are obligated to deliver India's next tour of Sri Lanka, in 2017, to Ten Sports. The board is currently selling broadcast rights for the next seven years, but if they strike a deal with another company, it cannot offer them the most lucrative tour on Sri Lanka's calendar. It is understood that the committee's decision to grant Ten Sports a new deal was largely motivated by this complication.

The sports ministry said the minister only advised SLC to open up the tender procedure after it had consulted Sri Lanka's attorney general on the matter. The attorney general had recommended that SLC call for tenders for the seven-year period, but only after offering India's 2017 tour to Ten Sports.

"If we do not take the proper course of action, SLC will end up paying millions of dollars to Ten Sports for breaching the contract terms," Dharmadasa said. "We don't have to go far back to find such huge penalties SLC paid due to blunders committed by the officials through various personal agendas."

In 2001, SLC was forced to pay $5 million in damages to Nimbus, after the board had breached its contract.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here