Sri Lanka news March 7, 2014

SL in contracts standoff again

Sri Lanka's national cricketers and their board have squared off over player income for the third year running, with the players steadfast in their rejection of the new annual contracts, a week after their previous agreements had expired. Debate on key issues within the board means the standoff is less likely to escalate to a full-blown crisis this year, although the players have dug in on their demands.

As in 2013, the players' defiance is driven by the board's refusal to share its income from ICC events with the cricketers. The players had received 25% of SLC's income from global events until March last year, when SLC culled that payment from the 2013 contracts. On that occasion, the players had eventually agreed to sign their ICC event fees away after a 24-hour lockout, but had conveyed to the board that they would seek a reinstatement of that payment in future years. With SLC's annual earnings expected to be significantly higher in 2014 than it was last year, the players have now made good on that declaration.

Chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya is a key figure in the negotiations between parties, having been the mediator that ended last year's standoff. This year, the players had given Jayasuriya a letter detailing their requirements from the fresh contracts, before leaving for Bangladesh in late January.  It had been Jayasuriya's assurance to the players that ICC event fees may be reintroduced in coming years, that persuaded the players to sign in 2013.  

"I could not hand over the letter to SLC but I very clearly informed all officials and CEO Ashley de Silva of the players' wishes," Jayasuriya told Daily Mirror, adding that he had agreed to facilitate dialogue between the players and the board once more.

Jayasuriya had been among the group of players that had initially campaigned for SLC's ICC events income to be shared with players in 2003, and as such has been sympathetic to the players' demands. Most international boards pay the players either a portion of their income from global events or a fraction of their overall income, in order to compensate players for the use of their images, which are used to promote the tournament. Players are largely unable to secure corporate sponsorship for the duration of ICC events.

"After all SLC gets all that income because of the cricket the players play," Jayasuriya said.

Opposition to reintroducing the ICC events payment to players is led by secretary Nishantha Ranatunga, who had been central to removing that sum from players' contracts last year. Ranatunga has had a frosty relationship with some senior players over the past year, due in small part to his role in 2013's contracts standoff.

"The players in the top category of contracts will earn more than 55 million rupees [approx. US $425,000] within the next year on contract fee and match fee alone," Ranatunga said. "If that is not enough, I believe they should pursue something else than playing cricket. In addition to the contract and match fees mentioned above, they also get prize money and winning bonuses.

"We are also paying their insurance, we look after their practice and training facilities and infrastructure, we provide them coaches, physiotherapists, trainers, masseurs. We have also given them a performance-based pay increase, which came to 7% this year.

"Even the last time, the executive committee was not in favour of the demand by players. Last year we have paid 58% of SLC income to the players. So, it is obviously very difficult to consider such a payment."

Several members of the SLC executive committee, including president Jayantha Dharmadasa, are believed to be more sympathetic to the players' concerns, particularly given less than 15% of the board's 2014 expenditure is expected to be consumed by player payments, as the contracts presently stand. Dharmadasa had been similarly sensitive to players' interests in his previous presidency, from 2005 to 2007.

Dharmadasa, Ranatunga, Jayasuriya and de Silva all flew to Bangladesh on Thursday. They are ostensibly in the country to view the Asia Cup final on Saturday, but some dialogue is believed to have begun on resolving the impasse.

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