By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Amidst allegations of international cricket umpires being involved in match fixing during the recently concluded T20 World Cup Series, Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage refutes the involvement of Sri Lankan umpires or cricketers in any match fixing.
In an interview with Ceylon Today, Minister Aluthgamage said the International Cricket Council (ICC) was looking into the allegations raised last week about the T20 Finals and pledged to take stringent action against anyone, if found guilty. However, he lashed out at the cricket authorities for overspending on the cricketers and underspending on the advancement of the game.
Aluthgamage also promised a National Policy on Sports in 2013 and serious amendments to the country’s sports laws to prevent match fixing, the presence of politicians in sports bodies and nepotism in sports. Excerpts:
Q: Were there any recorded instances of Sri Lankan sportspersons, especially cricketers, being allegedly involved in match fixing?
A: There have been no written complaints so far. All are rumours. It is not possible for the Sports Ministry to investigate rumours.
To the best of my knowledge, in Sri Lanka, we have not had any instances of match fixing though rumours have been aplenty.
Q: How can you exonerate Sri Lanka so easily, when it has been well established that both in India and Pakistan, players have been involved in match fixing and were found guilty, fined and even banned from the sport. There have been instances where Sri Lankan cricketers too were mentioned, but there were no local investigations?
A: In that case, there had been allegations about other sports as well, specially rugby and football. As I said, no formal complaints have been made. I have to consider our sports people fairly clean because nobody has come out and proved otherwise, or even made an attempt.
As for cricket, there are stringent rules to follow. The International Cricket Council (ICC) will refer complaints to its Anti-Corruption Unit which in turn, will initiate inquiries. So far there has been nothing against Sri Lanka.
Q: In June 2011, a former Sri Lankan skipper Hashan Tillakaratne made public allegations about ‘match fixers’ and ‘book makers’ in Sri Lankan cricket. Is there any progress with regard to the inquiry initiated at that time?
A: The allegations had no weight. The matter is now closed.
Some information I believe is available with Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). The ICC will directly inform SLC if there is any issue. You should speak to them for more details.
Q: What was the outcome of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) inquiry into the said allegation, following Tillakaratne recording a statement?
A: An agreement was reached and the proceedings came to an end.
Q: Are there similar inquiries or well-founded allegations relating to other sports as well?
Q: In your capacity as Minister of Sports, you promised to introduce vital amendments to the country’s sports laws enabling respective governing bodies to take stringent action against all types of breaches committed by regulators and sportspersons including match fixing? How far have you progressed?
A: The draft Bill was prepared, and for the past six months, it is being perfected at both the Attorney General’s Department and the Legal Draftsman office. It will be presented to Parliament early next year.
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) conducts an annual election. Office-bearers spend six months on the sport and the rest on electioneering. Sometimes electioneering is for nine months. The sport is often not the focus but their positions are. The clubs and the sport suffer because of their election-focused management of the game. When elections end, then they have to please their voters; the clubs. Often the proposals are not about the advancement of the sport but to appease some clubs. This is also common to certain other elite sports.
Just look at the revenue generated by SLC. Some 60% of that goes to remunerate the cricketers. Another 20% or so goes to the clubs and only the remainder is available for the development of the sport. So how can the sport really develop if we concentrate on paying high- maintenance cricketers? This business of satisfying their voters should stop. This is also why there are monopolies and cronyism.
The new policy will require all sports bodies, especially the revenue-generators like cricket, to specifically spend 50% of such revenue on the advancement of the sport. Why do we have to maintain 800 players to select just 20 at the end of the day?
With the amendments I present, I will also propose that elections be postponed for four years, which gives them a longer spell to work, not on their voters, but on the sport. There will be some drastic changes in the sports arena following these amendments and I do promise to depoliticize the sports bodies.
Q: What are the key changes envisaged through the amendments?
A: The postponement of the next election by four years is only to create the setting for the development of our sports.
If any person is competing at the national level, his or her family members will be disqualified from serving on any sports body, not just the relevant sports body.
There are plenty of nepotistic and crony examples. Sports such as badminton, netball, tennis, swimming and rugby are full of such examples. During the last Asian Netball Championship, the assistant coach had the daughter included in the national team.
The sports governing bodies also draw a certain type of people, besides those who want to hog it and include their kith and kin at the national level. This second group comprises the importers of sports goods. This undue advantage, they have enjoyed at the expense of our sports, must immediately stop. If anyone has a registered company that supplies or imports sports goods, they will be barred from serving on any national sports body.
The amendments require that former national players should occupy the sport administrators’ positions. Some are headed by absolute aliens to the world of sports. The current law allows discretionary powers to the minister, and I am willing to forgo such unfettered powers. With these amendments, I shall forgo that privilege of being able to appoint people to sports bodies.
From next year, no elected politician will be allowed to serve on sports bodies, even if the person has represented the country in a particular sport.
Many problems exist largely due to the absence of a national sports policy. Now that a draft is ready and is being finalized, some radical changes can be introduced to the management of sports in Sri Lanka. The policy also promotes a ‘sports culture’ in the country.
Sri Lanka is becoming obese and diabetic-prone. This is due to wrong food intake and lack of exercise. To encourage a better quality of life, this policy will aid the creation of a healthy and sporting nation.
Q: What steps are being taken in this regard and what is the investment?
A: From 2013, it is mandatory for every school-going child to participate in sports. At present, the participation is at an abysmal 5%. This further decreases up to 1% by the time children reach the A/L standard.
In a bid to make ours a sporting and healthy nation, even the ministry staff now goes for regular workouts. It has increased our efficiency and the sense of well- being.
In addition, we want to promote Sri Lanka as a sports hub. This is why we host many sports events. In this year alone, we have hosted 11 international events. Our economy is growing and for it to flourish, our infrastructure needs to improve. This automatically happens when we host events of an international standard.
The Sports Ministry will construct nine sports complexes in the nine provinces, 24 such complexes in the 24 districts and 314 small grounds at the AGA Division level at the cost of Rs 6 billion. This process will be completed by 2016.
Q: Nevertheless, there are serious allegations about wastage of public funds by hosting numerous international events? The public finds this practice extravagant and not beneficial to sports?
A: Those who don’t like change will always have something to say. There were various allegations about the construction of the grounds ahead of the T20 Series. But the whole country gathered to watch the matches.
I can guarantee that these investments on sports infrastructure are cost-effective. The tickets and room nights have become a huge source of income for Sri Lanka. We have become a popular destination for sporting events and this is directly linked to our tourism promotion.
During the T20 Series alone, Sri Lanka sold 35,000 room nights for a period of 15 days. Each person would have spent at the very least, US$ 1,000 a day.
Earlier, this Ministry ran behind medals. But our scope has expanded now; we have a holistic approach to sports now. The Ministry now focuses on building a healthy nation, ensuring sports infrastructure development, harnessing our young talent, adequate funding for sports and of course, the medals.
Q: In the T20 Finals, Sri Lanka lost to the West Indies. Did the theory of match fixing surface due to the disappointment of local spectators, and the sports authorities, or is this a serious problem for the country that we try hard to conceal?
A: During the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) and now during the T20 World Cup, a lot of interest was generated in Sri Lankan cricket. I can understand the disappointment of the spectators. They have every right to feel so. The problem is, in this country, the selectors, the captain, the players, the managers all do their own thing. I strongly feel that none of them do, with dedication, what they are expected to do, and this is the result.
In sports, we must gracefully accept both victory and defeat. But here is a classic example of skillfully snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory. The SLC has some issues it must resolve if it is interested in the development of the sport.
Q: But, you are the Minister-in-charge. You should play that role and make the necessary interventions?
A: Long before I inherited this portfolio, many things had gone wrong. Our sports bodies are registered companies with the ability to monopolize the game.
I don’t want to be blamed for interfering with the sports administrations. Instead they must do their respective jobs. There is a mismatch there.
Having said all that, let me also say there is no match fixing in any of our sports. Not to my knowledge.
Q: There were media reports, both here and overseas, about the International Cricket Council (ICC) studying the video footage to ascertain for possible evidence of international umpires being involved in matches fixing. What is the current status?
A: If there is strong suspicion, it is right that the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit investigate the matter and report it to the Sri Lankan authorities. If something has gone wrong and there is evidence to prove it, we will definitely take corrective measures.
Q: Is there any mention of Sri Lankan cricket umpires?
Q: But the names are already out and the Indian media has made serious allegations?
A: It is unfair for me to take that same path as a responsible minister. I will wait for evidence to emerge, if any. The matter is now with the ICC and it is a highly responsible and respected body. We should await their response.
Under playing, bottled water and match fixing
It is not just that Sri Lankans are such bad losers and are willing to swallow India’s allegations on match fixing by international cricket umpires including three Sri Lankans. What has made the post-T20 defeat a sour one for the cricket loving public is not just the defeat but how the sport is managed, an issue that keeps cropping up time and again.
Besides claims by the Indian media Sri Lankan umpires have had a role to play during the warm up matches, the allegations only add to some mass disbelief in the country’s administration of cricket, specially in the absence of an anti-corruption code for domestic cricket.
A television broadcast last week purportedly exposed six umpires from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, admitting to the possibility and tendency to fix matches. The Times of India too reported the identities were revealed only after a sting operation conducted in July and August by the said channel which captured footage of Annees Siddique and Nadeem Ghauri of Pakistan and Nadir Shah of Bangladesh.
The expose indicated that the named Sri Lankan umpires were willing to leak information on the weather, pitch, toss and even the players ahead of the T20 warm-up match for Rs 50,000.
Sri Lanka Cricket Chief Ajith Jayasekera, however, has claimed there had been no official communication by the International Cricket Council (ICC) with regard to the allegations levelled by India TV that Sri Lankans were among the six international umpires who dabbled in fixing matches. He expressed faith in the ICC process to discover if any anomalies existed.
In the meantime, the ICC is said to reportedly investigate whether the bottled water, supplied at the ICC World Cup T20 Series in Sri Lanka, was in anyway responsible for a number of players falling ill during the tournament. Several players from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have reportedly fallen ill due to stomach bug, with one hospitalization.
With Sri Lanka’s cricket administration becoming a contentious issue yet again, adding to the growing criticism is Minister of Sports, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, who feels Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) must ‘fix a few things’ and insists that it is not doing its job right. (See interview)
The lack of faith in the administration of the glorious game of cricket was also questioned by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) last December. The COPE report faulted the administrative body, despite being a high revenue generator and an equally high spender; for the absence of a Corporate Plan and an Action Plan.
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) recorded a staggering Rs 6.1 billion as liabilities while the assets were only worth Rs 3.1 billion. It has not recovered income receivable from the ICC either.
The Committee has also expressed concern over the granting of telecasting rights to M/s Carlton Sports Network by Summerset Entertainment Venture, the selected telecaster of Sri Lanka Premier League matches.
The expenditure of the Board had increased by 524% in 2010. The provided reasons were: More money being spent on the matches played by the ‘A’ Team and the Under-19 Team, the increased national pool, now comprising 100 players, and the promotion of the game among women.
COPE has also queried as to how the contract for the construction of Hambantota- Suriyawewa ground was given to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).
The Committee also inquired into the reasons for the decision to construct a new cricket ground in Hambantota, without renovating the existing ground at Dambulla. Likewise, the selection of the World Cup Director (Tournament Director) was also questioned by the oversight committee’s report.
The COPE report added that the initial estimate for the construction of the three playgrounds in Hambantota, Khettarama and Pallekele had been a staggering Rs 3.3 billion, whereas the total expenditure had been Rs 7.10 billion. courtesy: CeylonToday