The halting of the investigation into match-fixing in the 2011 World Cup final may have answered questions of the validity of the allegations, but one question still remains unresolved – will the accuser be held accountable for comments which have now been deemed baseless?
From the moment former Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage’s remarks to a private television station, where he confidently stated Sri Lanka “sold” the 2011 Cricket World Cup final to India, began circulating on social media, there were concerns raised of the legitimacy of the damning allegations he was making.
“The 2011 Cricket World Cup final was fixed. I stand by what I say. It took place when I was the Minister of Sports. However, I do not wish to expose details for the sake of the country. The game against India in 2011, the game we could have won, was fixed. I say this with responsibility and I can come forward for a debate. The people are concerned about it. I would not involve the cricketers in this,” Aluthgamage told the station asking for an investigation to be carried out.
Unsurprisingly, in a country where people show as much piousness to cricket as they do to organized religion the comments caused an uproar. Former cricketers, administrators, politicians and the public questioned the timing of the statement and its motives, particularly since it was bringing into disrepute the integrity of some of the most revered names to have played the game for Sri Lanka.
His allegations itself seemed suspect from the beginning – Aluthgamage said the match was fixed but that the players nor cricket board officials were not involved and the accusations, whoever they were being directed at, were being made nine years after the match was played. Nothing said in that interview appeared to substantiate his claims.
Elaborating later, Aluthgamage said his comments were based on the four changes Sri Lanka made to the team ahead of the final, saying he found it suspicious that so many changes were made also stating that he was unaware that two standby players were sent to India ahead of the match.
Both claims have since been debunked with former administrator Nishantha Ranatunga telling the Daily Mirror that there was no necessity to inform the sports minister of changes to the playing XI ahead of a match, while our sister paper the Sunday Times reported that Aluthgamage was made aware by Sri Lanka Cricket of the need to send injury cover ahead of the final.
That the former minister didn’t point these two grievances out in the aftermath of that World Cup final underlines the fallacy of these allegations.
Aluthgamage also said that he had written to the International Cricket Council soon in 2012 and expressed his concerns into the integrity of that match, but the ICC’s Anti Corruption Unit General Manager yesterday refuted these claims.
After current Sports Minister Dullas Alahapperuma called for the claims to be investigated, ostensibly sensing a danger that the uproar could cause to his public image and potentially harm his hopes of re-election to parliament in August, the former minister tried to backtrack on his comments at a media conference a week later, when he said that what he had were only “suspicions” and it was that which he wanted investigated – perhaps another clue to the credibility of his allegations.
The investigation that followed led to three former national cricket captains, Aravinda de Silva, who was the Chairman of Selectors at the time, Kumar Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga, being asked to show up for questioning, all whilst the former minister was seemingly afforded preferential treatment when the members of the investigation unit travelled to Nawalapitiya to record a statement from Aluthgamage. It was a move that was widely criticized, with the public perception of cricketers naturally being far above those of politicians, especially considering the profile of those who were questioned.
Leave alone the absurdity that the investigation was called off even before it was completed and a formal conclusion arrived at, the fact that an independent committee has found no credibility to these allegations should put these claims to rest – unless actual, substantiated proof can be offered.
So what now for the former minister and these baseless allegations?
While the former minister’s true motives for making these allegations are known only to him, it is now hard to see it as anything other than to possibly gain political mileage ahead of the election.
That this whole episode would probably not ultimately hinder his return to parliament next month also goes to show the values that voters hold their leaders to – where handouts and promises are more important than integrity and past actions.
There is however a legal provision that could be used in this instance, to bring Aluthgamage to task for his comments.
Section 13 of Chapter II of the Prevention of Offences Relating to Sports Act, which was enacted last year, states that “Any person who makes any false allegation in any information disclosed by such person under section 16 of this Act, knowing the content of such allegation to be false or having reasons to believe that such allegation is not true, commits an offence under this Act and shall, on conviction by a Magistrate, be liable to a fine not exceeding rupees one hundred thousand or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or to both such fine and Imprisonment.”
These provisions were first drafted when Aluthgamage was Sports Minister between 2010 and 2015, and it would be hard to not see the irony or sympathise with him if he is charged under this act and faces the penalties that have been set out in it.