Sri Lanka contracts crisis March 3, 2013

What now for the players and the SLC?

In a time of great flux within the Sri Lankan team and SLC, below are some of the background issues and sub-plots that may influence the latest dispute

On March 3, 2009, four years ago to this day, Sri Lankan cricket was shaken by the news of the terrorist attack on the team bus in Lahore. Nothing so shocking has transpired on the fourth anniversary of that tragic day, but the nation's cricket finds itself in crisis again.

Twenty-three of Sri Lanka's top cricketers - including all but three players who travelled to Australia for the recent tour - have been locked out by Sri Lanka Cricket, after all 60 players who were offered new contracts refused to sign them before the March 2 deadline. The major dispute is SLC's refusal to pay 25% of their earnings from ICC events to their players, as they have done since 2003. With the Bangladesh series less than one week away, both sides are dug in, and the 23 players will not be considered for selection, nor will they be permitted to train at SLC venues.

In a time of great flux within the team and SLC, below are some of the background issues and sub-plots that may influence the dispute.

A new, inexperienced captain
Two weeks ago Angelo Mathews was joyful at his appointment as Test and ODI captain, but since the new contracts were issued early last week, his job has become a nightmare before he's even led the team in his first assignment.

There will be significant pressure on Mathews from SLC to persuade the younger players to sign, and if he displeases the board in this, his captaincy could be under great threat.

Mahela Jayawardene was the players' foremost champion in last year's pay dispute, which also put the players' earnings from ICC events in jeopardy, but on that occasion, Jayawardene had leverage Mathews can only dream of. Jayawardene could cite the SLC's defaulting on player payments for the better part of a year after the 2011 World Cup, and he not only commanded the sturdy respect of his players, but the sympathy of most Sri Lanka fans and sections of the media. He had also only reluctantly resumed the captaincy and, was at the time, clearly, the best man to lift Sri Lanka out of their post-World Cup problems. In comparison, Mathews doesn't command as much respect within the dressing room or without.

Compounding the issue for Mathews is his $950,000 contract with Pune Warriors in the IPL. Payments from ICC events may not constitute a major portion of his annual earnings, but for some of the players he may be expected to persuade, there is much more of their livelihood on the line. The dispute not only has the potential to have him stripped of the captaincy, but also to sour his relationships within the dressing room.

SLC's carefully set-up negotiation strategy
SLC has worked for months to load the springs in its favour and, in the early going, has claimed the higher ground in the dispute as a result. The first indication that player payment for ICC events would be on the line in this year's contracts was their refusal to allow the players to share their earnings from the World Twenty20 with support staff and curators.

According to Jayawardene, players had shared the very fee that SLC have proposed to cut, with coaches, analysts and other employees, who assisted the team in their campaign since 2007. However, when Jayawardene handed over a confidential letter to SLC asking the board to do the same with last year's payments, not only did the board refuse that request, the letter was later leaked to a local paper, to Jayawardene's great annoyance, and players had their motives questioned in the press as a result.

In addition, SLC released information that they had spent LKR 4.1 million (US $33,000) on business-class tickets for players' wives on the recent tour of Australia, as well as reportedly claiming former manager Charith Senanayake had requested luxury accommodation for players on tour.

In the weeks before contracts were issued, SLC also announced they would not allow player agents into the contract negotiations process - a rule which now seems to extend to player associations as well.

Having worked for some time to secure an advantage in the negotiations, it is unlikely SLC will agree to end the dispute without significant concessions from the players.

SLC election
The board is due to be elected at the end of March, and although secretary Nishantha Ranatunga will likely be elected uncontested, president Upali Dharmadasa has plenty to lose if the stand-off becomes ugly, as he faces stern competition from MP Thilanga Sumathipala - a man renowned for shrewdness and efficiency in equal parts.

On one hand, Dharmadasa has already overseen a contract scuffle that saw the players largely get their way in 2012, and will not want to appear weak in 2013, having already taken a firm early stance. However, if the Bangladesh series becomes a disaster for Sri Lanka, who will be forced to field a vastly inferior side, Dharmadasa's management ability will be cast in serious doubt.

Dharmadasa has already locked horns with Sri Lanka's government over broadcast rights, and with Sumathipala seemingly having the stronger political support of the two candidates, Dharmadasa may not want the sports minister to step in to defuse the situation, as the minister did in 2012.

Sponsorship and broadcast rights negotiations
In addition to the player contracts, SLC is currently negotiating a sponsorship rights deal for the three-year period beginning on June 1, and they are also currently open for offers on broadcast rights for the seven years beginning on April 1.

The longer the deadlock continues, the further Sri Lanka cricket's brand will erode, and with Dharmadasa already having claimed the lucrative sponsorship offers the team has attracted as a major positive of his tenure, he will not want the firms who have made big bids to withdraw their offers in light of the dispute. Media organisations are also far less likely to send in tenders as long as the stand-off continues.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2013, 0:13 GMT

    shanepe2003 - Don't talk about stuff you dont understand. Malinga might not have signed the central contract, but he made himself available for every single ODI and T20 match SL played in that year and only played the big bash when there were no clashes. So doesn't he deserve medical assistance from SLC?? Or is he supposed to be abandoned like he was in 2007/8??

  • Wijerathne on March 4, 2013, 0:01 GMT

    Sri Lanka senior crickets' monthly salary 4 million SL Rupees ($32,000) is 400 times the salary of a graduate (LKR10, 000 (USD 78.47) entering government employment. This is about 26 times the monthly salary of a SL University Senior Professor (LKR 156000.00 USD 1,224.21).Why do you study idiots? Play this ball game!

    Well, you wise cricketers opted not to study. Please keep demanding and enjoying your privileges. But I have made up my mind: I will never ever watch a match Sri Lanka would play!

  • Chatty on March 3, 2013, 13:22 GMT

    This is a nightmare situation for cricket in SL. Let's not confuse the issue - this is about money and not about cricket or politics. As someone who is familiar with collective bargaining, I know that these issues can become very heated. But, once the terms are agreed upon, then things move smoothly. But the key is to make sure that the negotiations are not made personal. SLC needs to resist the tendency to divide and conquer the team, even if they have a better chance of winning the negotiations that way. If that happens, there will be long term negative consequences for cricket.

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2013, 12:43 GMT

    This is not a good thing to continue, since it will be big disaster to not to SLCB but to SLC. I'm cricket loving fan so those are their money so they should have it. If SLCB won't to cut their expenses cut down your unwonted employee. Having keeping them with higher salary doing nothing, not the players money. See the today match every player are below 23 years it's a good move, but the team is Bangladesh, if it's other country like Australia today itself match over. So we don't want to let down our cricket. It's only sport that we are having in a international level. Are you want to let it down ??

  • Syed on March 3, 2013, 12:39 GMT

    Wow, this is very bad and good for Bangladesh (although beating a severely weakened side isnt something to be proud about and losing to one is really embarrassing). Hope it gets sorted out eventually. Good luck Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

  • charith on March 3, 2013, 12:31 GMT

    SLC try to reduce players payment but they don't try to reduce their costs. All other countries made a profit from last WC but it is only a cost for a SL thanks to the SLC management. Players earn money by their talent. But SLC only wasting money. They don't do anything to improve sri lankan cricket. Politics always involve to SLC. Ramith Rabukwella(Son of Keheliya Rambukwella.He is the incumbent Media and Information Minister in Sri Lanka) selected for practice match but there are more players performing better than him in SL domestic series. May be he will selecte for SL team sooner rather or later. May be he will be the next captain.....LOL...

  • Dummy4 on March 3, 2013, 12:19 GMT

    What is this all going on??

    I am not with the Players in the fact of player agents.But surely this is something that the players deserved.their portion from the icc events. Good article again by andrew thumbs up. Because the SLC has worked on this fact cunningly. This has been the same time jayawardena stepped down and new comer captain comes in to the scene. So mathews and chandimal won't be on the same talkative position in which mahela had for years.Even it will be a test for these two new captain's team spirit as well.

    But this controversial is not going for good i doubt.Because it is going to be the bangladesh tour and this this will make it a emerging team screening in to the scene(not even an A team) The point that i said i am with the players in this case except the agents scenario is that if SLC can properly manage these palers including their advertisements and etc there will be no use of agents and even players will be happy

    hope this case will be solved soon......

  • Madu on March 3, 2013, 12:12 GMT

    This looks really bad.whatever happens,I dont want this crisis to damage our cricket brand and talent.We are one of the best teams in the world and sri lankan fans' pride and joy.This is really going to hurt the SL cricket loving public if not the all cricket fans in the world.The recently concluded SL vs AUS ODIs and T20s were a blast,the SL fans enjoyed it to the end and one could feel the excitement,joy and fun they were having,that is what every SL fan takes pride in.If we lose that charisma,its going to be really to recover and SLC will lose it's peoples' faith.Praying for a solution soon.

  • shane on March 3, 2013, 11:56 GMT

    A bold move from ECB followed by SLC, I think its correct decision. National players will have to oblight central contract otherwise they should play as freelance with separate player conditions. Perfect Eg. Is L.Malinga refused to sing central contract with SLC but when he gets injured while playing IPL he straightaway flown back to S/L and seek for medical assistance for his injury. Wonder what is the logic to provide medical assistance by SLC (from SLC cost) for a player who even refused central contract? For SLC current crisis no one to blame but the players who missed use them.... Well Done SLC hope u will stick to u r guns!!!

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