Image courtesy World Cup Cricket 2011 Photos

The former Cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara, in his great Sir Colin Cowdrey speech at Lord’s,  spoke of a shared fanatical fashion and collective joy and ambition of the Sri Lankans, when he  found something in common in the form of cricket.  He spoke of diversity of our society and how cricket brought together a divided nation during 1996 world cup victory. Nobody disputes the fact that Sangakkara played a celebrated captain’s inning at a crucial juncture of Sri Lanka at the Lord’s lecture. So much is spoken about this speech and much was written about it. This article attempts briefly to discuss seven governance points worth elaborating  in the backdrop of the contemporary governance realities of the country.

Firstly, the message was very clear and strong. Sangakkara referred to the decay of the Cricket Board and the individuals who run it, directly or by proxy. He says “to consolidate and perpetuate their power, they open their doors to of the administration to partisan cronies that would lead to corruption wanton waste of Cricket Board finances and resources”. This is the stark reality of  our administration in general in all public establishments. I cannot think of a single public institution, including regulatory bodies, public corporations, defense authorities, sports administrations, diplomatic positions   and state media institutions, which escaped this harsh truth. All those institutions have lost credibility and integrity due to cronies so appointed. Ultimately, the public and the country as a whole have to pay. Who is guilty? I believe both the appointer as well as the appointee – because both have vested interest in such ill appointments.  The Cricket Board too suffers from the same governance problem.  For a country to progress, public institutions need autonomy and independence form unfair and unwarranted interferences, particularly from partisan political interests.

Secondly, a sportsman can be a great whistleblower of a corrupt administration, not only on the sport where he/she is engaged but also beyond.  Sangakkara’s exposure of vested political and partisan interests and lack of transparency of cricket administration is not unknown.  But when he says it from within, it becomes an exposure in the caliber of whistle blowing, warranting actions both to address the issues and to protect the whistleblower himself. World over, the whistleblowers are given special protection by law in order to protect the institutional integrity, because not all individuals have capacity or courage to raise issues of corruption.  The gravity of this must be viewed with the Sports Minister’s response. The Minister is moving to inquire into Sanga’s speech, which seems to have embarrassed him. The Minister’s proposed action is not at all surprising to me.  This shows intolerance, indiscipline and quality of the Ministers himself.  If you closely analyze the backgrounds of most of the politicians, their criminal background is swept under the carpet thanks to the impunity exists today. But, they do not tolerate a speck of   criticism and this is the general attitude from top to bottom in the political hierarchy. Some of the whistleblowers have disappeared, some lost their positions/employments and some have ended up in trouble.  This reminds us of the need to have a whistle blower protection in our legal system.

Thirdly, the fact that the government in general was not at all happy with the speech is quite expected for many reasons. Beyond all, our politicians from top to bottom of the day suffer from a kind of megalomania. They do believe that they have the monopoly of good ideas. They believe that it is they who will bring in reputation to the country and they want to be thanked for all achievements, including the sports achievements. Sanga did not thank the any politician (the President or the Minister) except former Minister Gamini Dissanayaka for his contribution to achieve Test status for the country.  More than anything else, this would certainly have been the issue for them to get annoyed.  The politicians have not begun to think this way overnight. For many decades, Sri Lankan politicians were given much more recognition – far more than they deserve, in every aspect of life. Media dominates politicians; they become chief guests in all events in the country. Without them there cannot be even a petty school event, a public or religious gathering. They in fact demand their presence to exhibit their leadership and power. They have lost the basic value of being a representative or the servant of the voter; rather they manipulated the system to be the masters. Naturally they are upset when a great speaker does not thank the political masters of the day. For the establishment of governance in this country, it is imperative that the politicians are recognized only to the extent they deserve and nothing more.

Fourthly, what is the role of the Minister of Sports? All decent constitutional democracies recognize that the Minister is only involved in policy issues and not in administration.  To the contrary, we see, for several decades, the Ministers getting involved in every phase of the activities of a ministry, from policy to administration & contracting, recruitment to disciplinary matters. Why do the Ministers get involved in administration? My conclusion is that direct administration is where they get opportunities, directly or indirectly,   to come within reach of the coffer. This is where they could use their power over the voter and the officials and to demand public respect, without earning them. The purported argument of many politicians is that the Minister is responsible to Parliament and thus he/she should have control over everything. This statement is not accurate in Sri Lanka. Unlike many other democracies, the Ministers are not called upon before the finance committees such as the Committee of Public Enterprises or the Public Accounts Committee. It is the Secretary to the Ministry, who is called upon before the committees, in his/her capacity as the Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry. Unlike the Sangakkara’s view on collective passion, a collective joy or ambition to mark a foot print in cricketing history, there is no collective passion on the part of the Cabinet (or even parliamentarians for that matter)  to be more accountable,  transparent or discipline,  let alone being intolerant of criticism.

Fifthly, the power of the Minister to dissolve the Cricket Board has always been abused in Sri Lanka, like many other powers vested in Ministers and the President.  Sports Law No. 25 of 1973 was introduced during a period where the  politicians wanted to control everything including the judiciary. Sports became yet another victim of this capture.  There is no independent body, which cannot be manipulated by the government in power, through the minister. We have seen in the past the best players in different games were dropped arbitrarily. School teams were changed due to interference and talented players gave up their passionate sports.  All governments have abused the law to such an extent that elected bodies were all dissolved and handpicked henchmen were then appointed to interim committees by the Minister under Section 33 of the Law.  Everyone knows how elections are conducted for the sports bodies. As Sangakkara described, “vote buying, rigging, brandishing of weapons and ugly fist fights have characterized Cricket Board elections”. In my view, this is possible only if this is the acceptable norm at main elections in the country. Certainly, almost all our elections for many years have been marred by violence, malpractices and abuses of state resources. Whether it is Parliamentary Elections, Presidential Elections, cooperative society elections or sports body elections, we have lost integrity of electoral process.  Abuse of power is the core issue here.  In governance terminology, when power is abused for personal gain (or for their group, party or clan) it becomes corruption.  Sports Law to all laws governing elections and how the law is put in practice  perpetuated this corrupt business.

Sixthly, as Sangakkara points out, there is uniqueness of Sri Lankan cricket and in its achievements. It was introduced from the West but had its success after we found our own identity. This extremely vital observation speaks volumes of many other values.  Parliamentary Democracy, English language, modern technology are among few diverse values that were introduced from the West. There is a blend of our own with them later, for the benefit of the public. An organized judicial system and a legal system to protect public resources were also introduced by the West, though it was modified later form time to time. The point I am making is that despite the modifications, the core values of the game did not change. Like the game of cricket, in the guise of changes, we did not make “an out” a “not out” or did not get rid of umpires.  We brought additional values to uplift the spirit of the game. Sanga has correctly suggested that, though we have the strength to find the answers ourselves, the International Cricket Council (ICC) should take action to “suspend member boards with any direct detrimental political interference and allegations of corruption and mismanagement.”.  A practical suggestion, which is not contrary to democratic values or the spirit of the game.  It is time now to reflect on this reality for many other areas such as governance, democracy and human rights. In a democracy, we have a collective duty to protect the essence of those values and uplift them rather than introducing self-saving changes to undermine the core values of those principles.  In every working democracy changes to a system come not to benefit the rulers (or their advisers) but to the public, in whose benefit the power is vested in the rulers.  Sanga spoke about the need to have transparency in sports administration; despite the government’s opposition to right to information, the core values of the democracy demands recognition of transparency in administration in general.

Finally, Sangakkara displayed his vision for the game and beyond; leaving before us unquestionable truth that a person of captain material can be a self-made great visionary.  This country is full of self- proclaim pseudo-visionaries, due to their political power, connection to a family or  securing an electoral victory.  For a country to progress, in sports and in all other fields, we need more and more free thinkers.   After all Sanga’s speech has enough and more for the young and uncorrupt to learn and improve their thinking – because he “spoke”.  Free speech is a core principle in a democracy, which we have unfortunately failed to protect up to its expectations in recent times. The speech is the seed for thinking and change that this country needs to re-establish even the right to speak.  It is a basic tool to fight corruption and establish good governance. It is now for others to speak up to make it a signal for the masses  to achieve  shared fashion of democracy, even at great personal risks. By this, the country can think of a collective joy and ambition – a representative society and true democracy.

  • justitia

    Sri Lanka may be the only country where politicians appoint and control sports bodies.
    Sports bodies like Sri Lanka Cricket need to be independent, for the good of the game.
    Past Test Crickters resident in sri lanka & not actively engaged in politics should vote to establish a Board of Management for Cricket.
    The board should recruit/appoint its own officials to administer its affairs. Annual audited statement of accounts should be published.
    The minister in charge of the subject of “sports” should not have the power of appointment of anyone in charge of sports.

    • De Silva

      i am totally agree with you justitia.

      The Minister and the Board of Management should change immediately. President must attend to this quickly as possible and give our champion cricketer Sangakkara to lead the team.

      otherwise, cricket is in danger and also government is in danger.

      His Excellency the presidents, please don’t let this uneducated monkey (Minister of Sports) to spoil our cricket.

      • bena

        You 100% right, both De Silva & justitia. Not only the Board of Cricket but the whole Sri Lankan government. I am not a fan of the government but what the President does for the country should be appreciated. Let the man perform and the country is in a right direction. But that does not mean corruption is neglegiable. What Sangakkara did at Lord’s is very correct. Speaking of the what he believes in and the truth. Well spoken for a Sri Lankan, you make me proud in a foreign land.

  • Kolitha Herath

    In my opinion, there is solution to the controversies and drawbacks in Sri Lanka’s cricket. The captain and the vice-captain should be appointed by ballot from the team comprising of the coach and all members of the team. The team for a tour should be selected by a committee comprising of the coach, the captain, the vice-captain and one or two senior members of the team. The cricket board should only be there for disciplinary purposes and for managing the finances.

  • Lokka

    This truely is a case for Mr. Mervin Silva (within his ministerial assignments). Sangakkara is tarnishing our country’s image in public and what he said was improper. The world is to swallow our country because they cant think of anything else being enravished by everything that we have to offer. The rest of the world is evil.

  • Malith

    Truth Hurts. Sangakkara did exactly what he should do at Lord’s. If he was to deliver a speech for the British who was already confused and hungry for the truth, Sangakkara nailed right on the head. Very proud of him and also to be a Sri Lankan. The truth has to be told about our Cricket board. We all know know how deep politics have infiltrated into Cricket and all sports in Sri Lanka. This is not a lie, but the truth. Our President is doing a fantastic job of developing our country. When in Power, some times they too loose the grip and starts steering off the highway.It’s our job to show when they are wrong. Government and politics should never interfere into sports in Sri Lanka but only the good sportsmanship within the sport should elect the leadership and well being. Letting kids participate in sports gives them the opportunity to learn many valuable lessons. However, it’s up to parents to help their children apply what they learn from sports to other areas of their lives. There’s no doubt, Sangakkara showed at lord’s exactly what he had learned from the game of ‘CRICKET’.

  • myil selvan

    Now let’s look at the Sri Lankan government’s take on the channel 4 video in light of Kumar’s speech.

    Who do you believe now?

  • peace

    Dear Kumar Sangakkara

    We’ve been getting news that the army of occupation isn’t allowing people to collect data of people physically harmed in the last 5/6 years in the Northeast. Can you use your power to collect the data please?

  • TKumar

    A shame that this “Sri Lankan” neglected to speak out for Sri lanka’s most neglected community.

    This statement is a great analysis of the speech…

    A force for good or ill? Cricket and Sri Lanka today

    In a welcome rejection of the often-made claim that sport and politics are, and should be, separate, Sri Lanka’s star cricketer, Kumar Sangakkara, argued in his 2011 MCC Cowdrey Lecture that “the spirit of cricket can and should remain a guiding force for good within society.”

    We share Sangakkara’s assertion that “cricketers [have] bigger responsibilities than merely playing on the field.” It is this very belief that has inspired our call for an international boycott of Sri Lankan cricket until the government there agrees to a credible and independent investigation into the war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities that characterised the final months of the war in 2009.

    Whilst Sangakkara spoke of a role for cricket in the “crucial period of reconciliation” following the end of the island’s war, reconciliation remains an impossibility in Sri Lanka given the government’s refusal to investigate, let alone ensure accountability and justice for these mass crimes, as well as its refusal to enact a political solution to the ethnic crisis – a crisis that predates, and outlasts, the three decade armed conflict.

    The international community is strident in its criticism of the Sri Lankan government’s lack of progress on addressing the discrimination against the Tamils, devolution or power sharing, and accountability for war crimes. As the governments of Britain, India, the United States and the European Union countries, have repeatedly pointed out, these are fundamental for any meaningful process of reconciliation to begin.

    Unofficial ambassadors

    It is over two years since the war ended. In all this time, Sri Lanka has steadfastly rejected international demands for both power-sharing and accountability for the mass killings. Yet the same two years have seen Sri Lanka’s national cricket team participate in two hugely successful World Cup series and tours of England. In this context, the successes of its national team have served to whitewash, legitimise and thus raise revenue for a regime accused by the United Nations appointed war crimes experts of “a grave attack on the entire regime of international law.”

    As ‘unofficial ambassadors’ of their country, Sri Lanka’s cricketers are, albeit unintentionally, papering over the regime’s brazen and ruthless violations of human rights, and its continued discrimination against the Tamils. To remain silent about the egregious conduct of the country they represent is to render meaningless Sangakkara’s assertion that “the spirit of cricket can and should remain a guiding force for good within society.”

    As iconic role models, cricketers have a responsibility to take a moral and principled stance. Sport has a long history of men and women who have done just that, who have used their standing as national or international celebrities to be a powerful moral force – from those who refused to represent, or play against Apartheid South Africa, to the Iranian footballers who, following the 2009 elections, wore green armbands in condemnation of their government’s illegitimate grip onto power, and more recently still, the Libyan footballers who refused to continue representing Colonel Gaddafi’s brutal regime.

    Sangakkara’s bold and trenchant criticism of the politicisation of Sri Lankan cricket has generated international headlines – and earned him sinister threats from the government in Colombo. In a country where there is a now entrenched disregard for free speech, freedom of expression and accountability, this is to be expected. However, although he may suffer professional retaliation, Sangakkara’s international fame and celebrity status at home will protect him from the intimidation, violence, torture and death that have befallen others who dared to criticise the regime.

    Regrettably, in his lecture Sangakkara avoided mention of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the present Sri Lankan regime in 2009. The intentional killing of over 40,000 Tamil civilians in five months is an inescapable reality that must be faced, particularly when such mass atrocities are inflicted by a state on its own citizens. In amidst such silence, any notion of reconciliation is hollow.

    Making change possible

    Ironically, it is the impossibility of reforming Sri Lankan cricket from within the country that led Sangakarra himself to propose external intervention by the ICC. It is for the very same reason – the impossibility of change from within Sri Lanka – that we are calling for external sanctions, starting with an international sports boycott, as a means of pressuring Colombo to comply with international calls for political and constitutional change, and accountability for war crimes.

    Sports boycotts have been validated as successful non-violent interventions that can compel recalcitrant and defiant regimes to respect human rights and international values. Cricket was crucial in the cases of Apartheid South Africa and Zimbabwe. The point was reiterated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his 2008 Cowdrey Lecture. That the MCC invited him to speak underlines the link between sport and political change, or the lack thereof.

    Moreover, it is precisely because, in Sangakarra’s words, cricket is “an integral and all-important aspect of [Sri Lanka’s] national psyche” that we believe, as in South Africa, an international sports boycott will be successful in bringing about political change, justice for state atrocities, and the consequent possibility of reconciliation in the island.

    • wijayapala

      TKumar, do you believe anything pumped out by Tamilnet is great analysis?