The speech made recently by cricketing hero Kumar Sangakkara for the MCC Spirit of Cricket Lord Cowdrey Lecture has drawn plaudits from almost every quarter. The fact that Sangakkara gained the rare honour of a standing ovation from a distinguished audience cannot fail to warm the heart of every decent Sri Lankan. As a large part of our population, even in the remotest villages, gets heavily involved emotionally in sharing our cricketers’ dreams, successes and losses, the relevance and consequence of what Sangakkara had to say are obvious.
Sangakkara spoke of our long history. He reminded us of the critical achievements of a few key persons who contributed to the growth and flowering of Sri Lankan cricket. He told us with great pride of how all the members of the national team thought of themselves as Sri Lankans and not as constituents of any of our national subgroups. He acknowledged the role played by government at critical moments where Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) or its predecessors could not, by themselves, have accomplished certain goals, particularly where international forces were at play or huge financial commitments were involved. The validity of what he said on these matters has not been brought into question in any of multitudinous comments which have appeared in the Press.
There are, however, a few genuine patriots and a few “patriots” of the other variety who hold the view that Sangakkara should not have spoken about our shortcomings on foreign soil but brought such matters to the notice of the SLC hierarchy directly and got these rectified. The strictures made against him in this regard call for examination.
Sangakkara devoted around 90 per cent of his talk to the good things that Sri Lanka can be proud of and, perhaps, 10 per cent to malpractices at SLC, which would certainly have left the average listener or reader with an overwhelmingly favourable picture of Sri Lanka rather than an adverse one. Had Sangakkara limited himself only to praising historic Sri Lanka, its multi-ethnic and multi-religious but united cricket team, and those who contributed to its growth, the cricket-savvy audience at the MCC would have wondered why he had not said anything about the scandalous state of affairs at SLC that has been receiving no small amount of publicity in the local media and the Internet. It was his very frankness that gave credibility to the positive picture that he had drawn of our country.
Would SLC have paid the slightest attention to any criticisms of it if they had been made by Sangakkara in Sri Lanka? Even minimally informed members of the public know the SLC authorities are shameless and have a skin with a puncture resistance that even the toughest rhinoceros would envy. In a recent newspaper interview, MP Arjuna Ranatunga, Captain Cool himself, confessed that his efforts to improve governance at SLC were comprehensively thwarted. All he succeeded in was making a lot of enemies by his forthright exposure of the rotten state of affairs in that organisation.
Ranatunga has revealed that, whereas he would have preferred Sangakkara to have made his criticism of SLC in Sri Lanka, it had to be admitted that his own locally-expended efforts over the years to clean up the organisation had been totally rebuffed. To add further weight to the proposition that any local effort to cleanse SLC would have been quite ineffective is the manner in which Minister M.D.Chandrasena condemned the SLC administration for its corruption and the speed with which he was given short shrift for expressing this opinion. All that ensued was that he was moved to another Ministry and the SLC administration he had castigated was given a fresh lease of life to carry on as before with its iniquities.
It is said that a wise man learns from the mistakes made by others and it is only a fool who insists on making the same mistakes himself in order to learn. Sangakkara is plainly no fool. In the light of these two telling examples, can anyone doubt that, if Sangakkara had confined himself to a Sri Lankan platform, his representations would have been blandly ignored apart from attracting the displeasure and antagonism of all those who were milking SLC? It is most gratifying that Sangakkara did not lack the backbone to take up this issue, however briefly, in an overseas forum so that his views would be given adequate weight not only in all cricket-playing countries but also back at home.
Sangakkara’s call is for a non-partisan, non-political administration to protect the game of cricket in Sri Lanka. In other words, he calls for good governance in the interests of improving player morale, cutting down on match-fixing, spot-fixing and other grave misdemeanours, and discouraging criminal malpractices in all their forms.
The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) recognises that this country can never make satisfactory progress unless all citizens agree on the fundamental need for national unity and work towards it. The unity shown by all Sangakkara’s team members – without regard to ethnic, religious or other affiliations – is what we have to strive to achieve on a national scale. In this regard, no one has put it better than Sangakkara himself in his closing remarks, which are truly moving: “With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan”.
CIMOGG unreservedly salutes the integrity, social sense and daring shown by Sangakkara, quite apart from its admiration for his outstanding exploits as a cricketer. We see no need to keep on heaping any more praise on him than his admirers have already done but the issues touched upon in his address need to be widely discussed and appropriate action taken.
In conclusion, we call upon Mr Upali Dharmadasa, the current Chairman of SLC, to do whatever is necessary to put right everything that has gone wrong over the past many years. We are aware that he has enough wealth of his own already to be able to resist any temptation to enrich himself at the cost of SLC and should therefore take this opportunity to work hard and conscientiously to join the ranks of people like the late Gamini Dissanayake, MP Arjuna Ranatunga and the others who were praised by Sangakkara so that he (Mr Dharmadasa) may be similarly remembered by future generations.