By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
The dismal showing of our team in recent encounters, has led quite rightly to some soul-searching. But one fundamental question as far as I know, has not surfaced. This is whether bringing cricket (and other sports) under a Ministry is wise or desirable. I think not. Sports, Religion and Culture, are entirely matters of personal preference and should be beyond the purview of politics. This is tellingly reflected in our present plight.
This should be a necessary consideration in a country which professes to be “Scientific” in Cabinet formation. Also, is “streaming” of a population in the best interests of a quest for nationhood, reconciliation and cohesion? Cricket is a passion with us and shows as a model of integration. Our team is a good indicator where a healthy mix of ethnicity, religious and social class is seen.
Significantly, the harm is seen in our local context in relation to Language, Religion and Sports. How does this match with what goes on in other countries? We are now near the bottom of the Test Rankings Table. Among the top six are Australia, South Africa, England, India, Pakistan and New Zealand. How many have found it prudent or wise to have cricket under a Ministry? A succession of our Ministers has had no significant contact with any Sport. The only one who has, is looking after Ports or Petroleum!
There is said to be a “Sports Law” whose formulation should perhaps be a matter for the Legislature. That it is not enforced (and even the Rules of the ICC flouted) is nothing new, but shameful. Should not the Administration, planning and strategies for improvement be matters for the Governing Bodies of each sport (of course legally and well composed)? Is there any significance in the fact that all our cricketing greats of the past have turned down involvement in the current administration? Should their voices not be heeded?
I am intrigued by the captain being blamed and penalized for such matters like slow over rate. I believe that this is unfair, when the bowlers directly responsible go free. A series lost or the team being demoted is not the responsibility of the captain alone. Suspension is possibly effective, because it means a financial loss. This is one consequence of turning cricket into a business.
Players do go through periods when they do not perform well. Mathews who has big health problems, being axed seems cruel. Mahela went through a string of poor scores. Happily the selectors persisted! The reported offer by Dilshan – the best fielder we have recently had, to offers to help our team presumably unpaid, is cricket at its best. What one sees is the truth that we were taught, that “catches win matches”. Sanga’s reported refusal to be lured into politics or by the ridiculous offer to be an ambassador and even to candidacy for the Presidency, shows class. He is credited with a polite but memorable refusal, with the apt clever remark “Cricket is my game” is genius at work!.
Cricket, laments a former hero “Is no longer a Sport, it is now a business”. The lure of money now surpasses pride in representing one’s country”. This warrants an examination of the desirability of paying Cricketers any more than their legitimate expenses. I recall a time when England had fixtures between “Gentlemen” (amateurs) and “Players” (professionals). Were Test Teams drawn entirely from the Gentlemen? Is this why Cricket came to be known as “The Gentlemen’s Game? Tellingly, the current Minister confesses that he knows little about cricket, perhaps his predecessors even less!
My firm conviction is that Sports, Religion, and Culture are entirely personal choices, well beyond the remit of Ministers. Political compulsions cannot justify departure from principle.