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Arjuna's Legacy


by Rex Clementine

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of United States once said, ‘Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.’ World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga who assumed duties as the Minister of Ports and Shipping on Friday has experienced both victory and defeat in his cricket and political careers and knows these feelings. The very people who alienated him and scoffed at him saying his old school ideas were outdated were present to wish him well as he took guard at an important ministry.

Arjuna’s falling out with the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime was quite astonishing. Having been brought in as Chairman of the Cricket Interim Committee in 2009, Arjuna was pestered to sign an agreement to put up an international cricket stadium at Hambantota. The former captain explained his thinking. He was of the view that the county was in need of grounds with basic facilities and an international stadium was not the need of the hour. Anyway an international stadium was out of the equation as Cricket Board’s financial status wasn’t sound.

In the end, he was removed after holding office for a 12 month period. But that was a tumultuous 12 month period with constant interference by the government. Sri Lanka must be the only country where sportsmen were told to put the interests of overseas franchises above those of the country.

The international stadium at Hambantota became a reality as those who replaced Arjuna made it their number one priority. It was ready for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011. But the cost was truly amazing. SLC was bankrupt and national cricketers had to play for months without being paid while even the salary of SLC employees were delayed.

In the end, SLC reached an agreement with the government. The agreement was to write off billions of rupees SLC owed state institutions! Effectively, the agreement forced the taxpayers to bear up the cost for the stadium at Hambantota.

Arjuna also has been vehemently against Sri Lanka’s international calendar being shortened by two months due to the involvement of a handful of players with the IPL. The IPL has had an adverse effect on Sri Lankan cricket with several international series being cancelled and several other series being shortened.

As cricket captain, Arjuna constantly spoke against England awarding just one off Tests to Sri Lanka. It all changed when Sri Lanka won the one off Test Match at The Oval in 1988 under his captaincy. Addressing a post match media briefing Arjuna rubbed salt into the English wounds when he said fear of losing 3-0 was the reason for ECB not to give a three Test series. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the ECB. Since then all our contests against England had been three Test affairs until SLC three years ago meddled with the scheduling. England were scheduled to play three Tests when they toured Sri Lanka in 2012. But the series was shortened to two Tests as SLC agreed to free IPL players early. It boomeranged as the ECB cut the return series on English soil for a two Test series last year.

The consequences of IPL are so huge that we see players retiring early from international cricket so that they could travel around the globe playing for various T-20 franchises. Players also fail to put in the adequate preparation needed for an international series due to their IPL commitments and Sri Lanka has suffered heavily due to this. A case in point is several of Sri Lanka’s IPL stars arriving late for their tour of England in 2011 and missing warm-up games and in the end they were thrashed by an innings in the first Test in Cardiff after being bowled out for 82 runs in the second innings.

Arjuna was one of the pioneers to raise his concerns on cricket boards being overly dependent on Board of Control for Cricket in India. He warned that this will have a detrimental effect on the game and today India has taken full control of the game.

The situation is so bad that according to new resolutions agreed by member boards last year, India will have a larger revenue share from the game. He also warned that if the slide is not stopped, cricket like football could go onto become a club based game with teams getting together once in four years or so for a World Cup.

Those who turned against him include some of the players whom he backed risking his own career. At times his own family members belittled his warnings and put marketing values of the game above the intrinsic values of the sport. A popular saying among local cricket fans is, ‘Aiyya cricket rakka. Malla cricket wikka’.

Had Arjuna agreed to Namal Rajapaksa’s proposal to put up the international stadium he would have survived as Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket. But he did exactly what his fans would have wanted – saying no to the wrong thing. The Hambantota International Stadium today is a white elephant. The country is not short of international venues, but there are pressing needs the game has neglected.

First Class cricketers in Sri Lanka get peanuts while many schools struggle to keep the game going due to lack of finances. There was a time when Sri Lanka cancelled playing ‘A’ team cricket, due to lack of finances.

In 2010, a court giving a ruling said Arjuna’s dismissal from SCLC was wrong and commended his conduct as an international cricketer and straight forward administrator.

Arjuna backed the opposition candidate in the 2010 Presidential Election and after General Sarath Fonseka’s defeated was crestfallen. His children urged him to give up politics and migrate. But Arjuna told them that he will give it one last try to do politics according to his conscience and contested the Parliamentary Elections that year from Kalutara instead of Gampaha or Colombo, his two strongholds. The people sent him to parliament again and he played a key role constantly raising his voice against injustices and corruption in sports in defeating the Rajapaksa regime.

Ports is not where Arjuna belongs. He needs to get back to do what he is an expert on. During his tenure as Chairman of SLC one thing that stood out was his commitment. Apart from cricket and a few other sports, most sports are facing several financial constraints. We have a system where when some Sri Lankan sports teams go overseas to compete, the athletes need to bear the cost of air ticket.

We are far from reaching a professional stage in sports, but at least the mother body should be able to look after essentials like air tickets. A clean man like Arjuna with an unblemished track record and commitment to match that can only get sports back on the right track.

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