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Editorial

When heroes shiver

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Monday 20th November, 2023

The so-called cricket crisis has led to the postponement of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) meetings, with some members of the parliamentary watchdog committee accusing their chairman of partiality to the SLC officials.

The executive presidency is generally thought to be the most powerful institution in Sri Lanka. But the cricket administration, we believe, dwarfs all other institutions. The UNP preens itself on having saved the country from the JVP’s reign of terror in the late 1980s. The SLPP leaders boast of having defeated the LTTE. But the members of the SLPP-UNP government, save a few, grovel before cricket administrators! Wijeweera and Prabhakran would turn green with envy if they knew the power of the cricket board.

When a motion was moved in Parliament, recently, calling for the removal of the SLC Executive Committee, the government made a virtue of necessity. It knew it would incur public opprobrium if it sided with the SLC office-bearers, and therefore supported the non-binding motion. But some ministers craftily made use of the debate on the motion to queer the pitch for Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe on the pretext of helping him.

Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said something to the effect that Minister Ranasinghe had not followed proper procedure in dissolving the SLC Executive Committee and appointing an interim committee, and his statement is likely to be used by the SLC officials and their lawyers against Ranasinghe. Minister Kanchana Wijesekera, taking part in the debate, warned of a possible ICC (International Cricket Council) ban and claimed that all 225 MPs would be held responsible in such an eventuality. The ICC suspended Sri Lanka’s membership much to the glee of the cricket officials and their defenders in the government. On Friday, Wijesekera urged all MPs to work unitedly towards having the suspension of ICC membership reversed!

ICC’s monopoly over international cricket is a fact of life, and Sri Lanka cannot do without the membership of the international cricket governing body. In fact, there is no reason why Sri Lanka should antagonise ICC. The government should negotiate with it but without pleading or begging on bended knees.

ICC has obviously been misled, and its principled policy that cricket governing bodies must be free from political interference is being abused. A group of seasoned negotiators devoid of vested interests should be handpicked to convince ICC that action being taken to rid SLC of corruption is for the benefit of cricket and should not be construed as political interference.

If the government undertakes to have allegations against SLC probed impartially and transparently, ICC will have to soften its stand. No cricket-loving Sri Lankan wants politicians to meddle with the administration of cricket or anything else for that matter. Such is the people’s antipathy towards politicians in this country, but Minister Ranasinghe’s action has gone down well with cricket lovers, and ICC should realise that something is rotten in Sri Lanka’s cricket administration.

In a previous editorial comment on cricket, we discussed the power of the corrupt in this country, and how they had placed themselves above the law. Today, they have humbled the Executive and the Legislature.

It may be recalled that when the Supreme Court issued an order on 03 March 2023, preventing the Finance Ministry Secretary from withholding funds allocated from Budget 2023 for elections, SLPP MP. Premnath Dolawatte raised a privilege issue in Parliament. He called upon the Speaker to take action against the breach of privilege, and the government tried to summon the judges concerned before the Ethics and Privileges Committee of Parliament, but it got cold feet due to protests. Curiously, the government, which has taken on the judiciary to protect its interests, has chosen to remain silent on indignities the legislature is suffering at the hands of a bunch of cricket administrators.

Curiously, even President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who does a Muhammad Ali when he deals with the Opposition, the Elections Commission, trade unions and anti-government protesters, floats like a bee and stings like a butterfly vis-a-vis the cricket nabobs, who are running a parallel government to all intents and purposes.



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Editorial

Umpire hora!

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‘Umpire hora’ is a famous cry in this country whether be it at backyard cricket after school, soft ball games played on the Parliament grounds during the weekend, inter-school fixtures or even during international games. Some 25,000 ardent cricket fans were yelling the same on Wednesday night as Sri Lanka lost a tense game against Afghanistan at Dambulla by a mere three runs.

Not just those fans who witnessed the game at the Dambulla stadium but the majority of the hundreds of thousands who saw it on television seemed to be convinced that Umpire Lyndon Hannibal, a Sri Lankan and no foreigner, got it awfully wrong that night. His fault was that he didn’t call a no ball after Wafadar Momand sent down a high full toss. A waist high full toss is called a ‘no ball’ and a free hit given according to playing conditions. This contentious delivery was not just waist high but a chest high full toss and should have been called a no ball. Did Hannibal cost Sri Lanka the game? Well, we will never know.

If that delivery had been called a ‘no ball,’ Sri Lanka would have got a free hit, an additional run and would have needed 10 runs in three balls to win the game and sweep the series. Could Kamindu Mendis have pulled it off? Quite possible. But here’s what we do know though. Sri Lanka have never successfully chased more than 200 runs to win a T-20 International

It’s a Sri Lankan trait to blame all else but themselves when things don’t go our way. The team didn’t lose the game because of Hannibal. They lost the game because they gave Ramanulah Gurbaz two lives when he was on 22 and 55. Their poor ground fielding conceded more than 10 runs. Kusal Perera, Nuwan Thushara and Akila Dananjaya are past their best as they are a liability on the field.

Another reason why Sri Lanka lost was that Matheesha Pathirana gave away 10 wides. You can even hold Pathum Nissanka responsible for the loss. His fitness standards were below par and he was forced to retire having made a terrific 60 off 30 balls. But we don’t talk about any of these reasons. Despite so many flaws within the team, the Sri Lankan captain found a scapegoat by calling ‘umpire hora’ loud and clear. Hasaranga was the Pied Piper and Sri Lankan fans blindly followed him.

Many people who have played the game at grassroots levels have been taught the golden rule never to question the umpires’ authority. Late Lionel Mendis had a rule that a dismissed batsman had to put his head down and walk back to the pavilion faster than he had walked in whether he agreed with the umpire’s decision or not. Late Bertie Wijesinha had got his players to ‘sir’ the umpires and some of his schoolboys greeted umpires that way even when they had moved on to the international stage.

Vernon Senanayake, another reputed cricket coach, taught his players ‘unquestioned obedience’ for he believed that when players moved on from schoolboys to adults, the trait would stand them in good stead in their workplace. Sadly, these values are not taught by coaches anymore. Now it’s all about win at any cost. The fault is not with Hasaranga but the people who have coached him.

It was an ugly scene as Hasaranga argued with the umpire. Then he walked into the media center and tore apart the umpire calling him a ‘misfit’. When questioned what exactly he told Hannibal after the game, Hasaranga revealed that he had asked the umpire whether he was a Sri Lankan. Sensibly, Sri Lanka Cricket deleted that part when posting the press conference in their social media platforms. It is clear indication that SLC did not agree with their captain.

On SLC’s part it needs to be asked why they opted for Hannibal as the on field umpire and Ruchira Palliyaguruge as television umpire. Palliyaguruge is Sri Lanka’s most experienced and decorated umpire after Kumar Dharmasena and he should have been on field and not sitting in the comfort of an air conditioned enclosure. Overall, it must be said that Hannibal or his colleague Ravindra Wimalasiri lost control of the game. Quite surprising for someone of Wimalasiri’s stature for he is a Chief Inspector of Police.

Even at school level, many facets of a player are looked at before making him captain of the team. At national level we seem to look at performance and seniority only. A captain is the ambassador of a country. He cannot behave like a bull in a China shop.

We have had players who have taken umpiring decisions on the bump. Kumar Sangakkara was batting like a king in Hobart in 2007 when umpire Rudi Koertzen gave him out wrongly. Sanga was on 192. The umpire realized the error and visited the Sri Lankan dressing room to apologize to Sanga. They buried the hatchet by visiting one of the best bars in Tasmania with Rudi paying the bill. That’s the way it should be.

Had Sanga scored that double hundred, he would have ended on par with a certain Sir Don Bradman’s tally of double centuries. Furthermore, no one was complaining when Umpire Kumar Dharmasena let Dinesh Chandimal off the hook in Galle in 2022. Chandimal was on 20 and was clearly caught behind off Mitchell Starc. Chandimal went on to post a stunning double hundred. Sri Lanka won the Test match and drew the series. Australia were feeling the pinch but didn’t make a hue and cry.

Cricket is a great leveler. There are some decisions that go your way and some that go against you. It’s the same with life. In both games, gentlemen should not get carried away and need to remain with their feet firmly planted on the ground.

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Editorial

Duplicity of human rights champions

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Saturday 24th February, 2024

The West has taken upon itself the task of protecting human rights and democracy in the world and meting out punishment to those who violate them. It has thus been able to weaponise human rights to compass its geopolitical interests. It manipulates the UN, especially the UNHRC, for that purpose. The western governments readily confer pariah status on the countries which they consider human rights violators; they even resort to extreme measures such as imposing economic sanctions and resorting to military action in the name of their human rights crusaders.

They went so far as to plunge Iraq and Libya into anarchy to oust Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, respectively, for human rights violations and endangering democracy, among other things. Strangely, they have done precious little to prevent genocidal violence Israel is unleashing against Palestinians in Gaza, where about 30,000 lives are reported to have already been lost due to Israeli attacks since 07 Oct. 2023.

The UK is at the forefront of the western crusade against the nations responsible for large-scale human rights violations and attacks on democracy. Given Britain’s much-advertised concern for human rights, one would have expected the British Parliament to make a unanimous call for a ceasefire in Gaza, where a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding.

But the British lawmakers are far from united in protecting the Palestinians’ human rights. On Wednesday, many of them stormed out of Parliament over a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, throwing the House into turmoil. Speaker Lindsay Hoyle came under fire for being partial, and subsequently he apologised for the decision to go for a vote.

The Labour leaders said they could not support the motion moved by the SNP (Scottish National Party) calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, because it sought to condemn ‘collective punishment’ of the Palestinian people, and did not specify that the ceasefire it was asking for had to be observed by both Israel and Hamas. This, we believe, is an absurd argument.

If what is being inflicted on the Palestinians in Gaza is not ‘collective punishment’ what is it? That all parties to a conflict have to observe a ceasefire goes without saying, and it defies comprehension why the Labour leaders made an issue of a non-issue. They should have mustered the courage to say that they did not want to antagonise Israel by supporting that motion.

Labour has been embroiled in an intraparty dispute over its policy towards the Israeli invasion of Gaza, and its MPs have been trying to serve self-interest rather than taking a principled stand and pushing for an immediate ceasefire to save lives in Gaza, where not even hospitals are safe. The Labour leaders, who are widely expected to win the next parliamentary election, are pandering to Washington, which is unflinchingly backing Israel to the hilt while paying lip service to human rights in Gaza.

Perhaps, the West has never been exposed for its duplicity in this manner, but it will not give up championing human rights and democracy, or rather using them as instruments to advance its geo-political agendas. It has no sense of shame.

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Editorial

Mystery Mansion of Malwana

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Friday 23rd February, 2024

The Mystery Mansion of Malwana is in the news again. Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe visited the supposedly ownerless palazzo, or rather the skeletal outlines thereof, the other day, and declared that it would be used to house a state institution after being renovated. The stately structure suffered an arson attack at the hands of violent protesters in 2022. The rebuilding project will be a drain on the public purse.

The story of the Mystery Mansion has all the ingredients for detective fiction. The imposing structure stood majestically on a 16-acre land almost overlooking the Kelani Ganga at the time of the 2015 regime change. The architect who designed the mansion and the person who paid for its construction are known, but its owner remains a mystery. The general consensus, however, was that it belonged to Basil Rajapaksa, who vehemently denied having anything to do with it.

The Yahapalana government did its best to trace the ownership of the manoir to Basil, but all its efforts were in vain. Not even the CID investigators handpicked by the Yahapalana leaders could prove that it was owned by a member of the Rajapaksa family. A case filed against Basil collapsed, and the ownership of the unclaimed mansion was vested in the state.

The news about nobody’s Mansion, as it were, could not have resurfaced at a more appropriate time, for it has evoked the people’s memories of the Yahapalana campaign against bribery and corruption and abuse of power by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. The Malwana chateau became a symbol of the acquisition of ill-gotten wealth, an issue that Yahapalana leaders, especially Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, flogged very hard in a bid to sway public opinion against the Rajapaksa family. Their efforts bore fruit; Sirisena became President and Wickremesinghe Prime Minister in 2015.

Those who voted the Yahapalana politicians into power, expected Sirisena, Wickremesinghe and their allies, including the JVP, to have the Rajapaksas punished for corruption, etc. But nothing of the sort happened, as is public knowledge, and the Yahapalana regime became corrupt instead and was exposed for the Treasury bond scams. The JVP continued to back the UNP-led government despite the latter’s corruption; it helped PM Wickremesinghe retain a parliamentary majority vis-à-vis attempts by President Sirisena to wrest control of Parliament with the help of the Rajapaksas.

Today, Sirisena, Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksasa are in the same government, savouring power and living the high life while the people are undergoing untold hardships. The JVP, which controlled the Yahapalana government’s anti-corruption committee to all intents and purposes but failed to fulfil its promise to have the Rajapaksas and their cronies thrown behind bars, is seeking a popular mandate to fight corruption! The SJB seems to think the public has forgotten that its leaders were Cabinet ministers in the UNP-led Yahapalana government and had no qualms about defending the Treasury bond racketeers and supporting PM Wickremesinghe.

The Mystery Mansion of Malwana, in our book, is a monument to the duplicity of the leaders of the current regime and the self-proclaimed champions of democracy, who denounce violence during the day but unflinchingly engage in it at night, and above all, the stupidity of the Sri Lankan public, who voted the Rajapaksas into power again in 2019/2020. Going by the barbaric manner in which an organised group of violent elements in the garb of democrats unleashed retaliatory violence countrywide in 2022, following an SLPP goon attack on Aragalaya protesters, one can imagine how aggressive they would turn in protecting their extremist interests if they succeeded in capturing state power by infusing the desperate public with false hope.

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