Member of parliament Thilanga Sumathipala has announced his candidacy for the position of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) president for next month's election, while three others will run for other board positions as part of his group. Sumathipala has been SLC president three times from 1997 to 2004, and also served as president of the Asian Cricket Council from 2000 to 2001. He also served as the director of the ICC from 1998 to 2000.
He currently represents Colombo as an MP for the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance, of which both the sports minister and chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya are members, and is believed to have the support of fellow MP Namal Rajapaksa, who is the son of Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sumathipala is also the joint managing director of a business conglomerate that owns a betting business.
Sumathipala was also a candidate for the SLC president's position last year, but his group withdrew from the race, allowing Upali Dharmadasa's group to win the election uncontested, amid claims of political interference.
Mohan de Silva, who contested one of the vice-president roles alongside Sumathipala last year, will do so again, while Shammi Silva, who is also part of Sumathipala's group, will contest the other vice-president position. The two other members of Sumathipala's group are Eastman Narangoda, who will run for treasurer, and Erwin Jayawardene, who will run for assistant treasurer.
"After discussing it with some SLC members, we handed over our names today as a team with the experience, talent and ability to improve and develop cricket in Sri Lanka," Sumathipala said on Wednesday.
The Sumathi Group, of which Sumathipala is joint managing director, owns Sporting Star - a betting business that primarily deals in horse racing bets. He has distanced himself from Sporting Star in recent times, claiming the business was run largely by his family, with minimal involvement from himself. Betting on cricket is illegal in Sri Lanka.
Sumathipala denied that either his political office or business interests constituted a conflict of interest should he become SLC president, and was adamant there were no laws, in Sri Lanka or the ICC, that prevented him from contesting the position. The SLC president occupies a seat on the ICC's board of directors, and the ICC Code of Ethics states in section 7.2 (b) that "no director shall have any business association, or enter into any business arrangement (whether formal or informal) with any person or company who has interests in gambling."
"I have been involved with Sri Lanka cricket since 1995 and have been serving cricket for a long time now," Sumathipala said. "I am very well respected at the ICC. I was involved when the ICC was compiling many of these rules, and have also been part of the board of directors. So, given all that, I have a good knowledge of what the ICC says about politics."
The ICC had given boards two years to become free from government and political interference in 2011, in accordance with the Woolf Report's recommendations , but has since said it would review that stance because some boards depended on government patronage. In 2011, the ICC had indicated that it would have to consider taking steps against boards that had not moved to become detached from political interference by June 2012, but are yet to impose any formal sanctions on members who have failed to do so.
"I think what I have done in cricket administration in the past is appreciated by the ICC, and they trust me. There are many politicians in the world who have improved sports, not just cricket. I don't think they'll see this involvement in SLC as a political one, because I've been in cricket administration for 18 years."
Sumathipala's group does not have a candidate contesting the position of secretary, but he hoped current secretary Nishantha Ranatunga would continue in that post, and even invited Ranatunga to join his team. Ranatunga has been linked to the government through the Carlton Sports Network (CSN) channel, of which he is also CEO. CSN is owned by the Sri Lankan president's sons, and is the current local broadcast rights holder for SLC.
Sumathipala was SLC's president from 1997 to 1998, 2000 to 2001 and 2003 to 2004 and his board was forced to stand down in the wake of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities in 2001. In 2004, he had to pull out of the elections as he was in jail at the time for allegedly aiding and abetting falsification of travel documents for a suspected mafia assassin , who was said to have received travel expenses from SLC to go to the 1999 World Cup. Sumathipala was convicted of the crime and sentenced to two years hard labour in 2007, but was acquitted of all charges on appeal.
Current SLC president Upali Dharmadasa's brother, Jayantha Dharmadasa, has also expressed interest in contesting the presidency, while former captain Arjuna Ranatunga has also suggested he may run. Candidates must submit their nominations to the sports ministry by Thursday, February 28, and the elections will take place late in March, with the winners announced at the annual general meeting on March 30.