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News Analysis

ICC investigation a challenge for SLC's clean-up act

As Sri Lanka Cricket grappled with the tentacles of politics for many years, the ICC was not spurred into action. The decision to enquire into government interference may have come at a time when there are signs of positive change

Sidath Wettimuny addresses the media, Colombo, April 1, 2015

The interim committee led by the respected and erudite Sidath Wettimuny is potentially the most independent board Sri Lanka has had in years  •  AFP

In 2012, while in-between administrative positions at the ICC and Cricket South Africa, Haroon Lorgat was commissioned to perform a wide-ranging review of Sri Lanka Cricket. "A New Dawn" was the title of his report, which was produced after about two months' research. "A New Yawn" would have been more appropriate. The review revealed very little that was not already publicly known about SLC. The board was in a "weak financial position" the document surmised, while it outlined the "lack of professional administration" at SLC, a "non-existent organisational culture" and an unsustainable domestic cricket structure.
Perhaps the worst of all the badly-kept SLC secrets outed in Lorgat's report was the "strong perception of ministerial/government interference" in board business. In particular, he noted Sri Lanka's "Sports Law provides for Ministerial involvement - which would breach ICC regulations".
The sports minister has for years approved team selections before they are announced, but this was merely the most visible of the many government tentacles that gripped the board. Even a casual observer of cricket politics in Sri Lanka has known that though SLC officials had been elected, from January 2012 to March 2015, the board was effectively in the state's control all through those years. The fact that the now-ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa government had stacked virtually every Sri Lankan organisation of value with yes-men has been laid out repeatedly in local publications, as well as in international outlets such as The Economist and The New York Times.
But it is only now, when a new government has installed a new board, that the ICC has suddenly sprung into action, suspending funds due to SLC, while an investigation is launched. The new regime's appointment of an interim committee is the most bare-faced political intervention since 2012, but at least this action's goals were clearly defined, and its motives transparent (even they were offered with a helping of the greasy political gloating that follows most shifts of power).
An appointed interim committee was preferred to an elected board, sports minister Navin Dissanayake said, because the committee could more effectively "clean up the corruption" and redress the mismanagement that has crippled SLC. Though the ICC has, in a release, noted Dissanayake's Facebook post - which alleges that former ousted SLC officials are behind the ICC's tough stance on the new committee - reports from the press conference that outlined the interim committee's goals has seemingly escaped its notice.
There have been many instances of apparent political influence on the SLC (see sidebar) that spurred no official action from the ICC in the years that SLC was ostensibly run by an elected board. The list is by no means exhaustive, but offers a glimpse of the politics that has blighted the board for several years. Government yes-men appoint yes-men of their own, and so sickness spreads to the capillaries - the voting clubs and the smaller associations. For now, another SLC election may do little to revive good cricket governance in Sri Lanka, though the board must aim to reinstate the democratic model within a year.
Ironically, the interim committee is potentially the most independent board Sri Lanka has had in years, headed as it is by men whose integrity has rarely been in question. New president Sidath Wettimuny is among the most respected and erudite former cricketers. He has for years been speaking sense about revamping Sri Lanka's archaic domestic structure, which alongside the board's financial situation, represents the greatest threat to ongoing excellence at international level. Vice president Kushil Goonasekara had served previous boards sagely, and has more recently been a leading force behind the Murali Cup - a tournament unlike any other in the world, through which cricket aims to bridge divides between post-war communities.
Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were respected by the entire cricket world except by members of their own previous board, but the new interim committee has embraced them, paving their path to greater administrative involvement. Within two weeks of their appointment, the committee had already seen a presentation from Jayawardene on how Sri Lanka's domestic and school cricket systems may be reshaped.
Though disappointed by the ICC's withholding of the distribution payment, the interim committee is hopeful the game's governing body will restore that sum once it hears the new board's case. It remains puzzling, though. The ICC had been inert as SLC has rotted over several years, but it has begun to crack its whip just as there are whiffs of improvement.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando