Sri Lanka's military will now take care of the grounds of three cricket stadiums, a move putting the armed forces into the operations of the country's sporting passion and widening an already big role in civilian affairs, officials said on Friday.
The move into cricket follows a pattern of increasing militarisation in Sri Lanka since the government won a 25-year civil war in 2009.
The decision was made after Sri Lanka Cricket, ridden with a debt of US$23 million after fixing up stadiums to host the 2011 Cricket World Cup, was unable to pay salaries, officials said.
"Sri Lanka Cricket wanted to cut down the expenses," military spokesman Brigadier Nihal Hapuarachchi said. "It is a service. We are supporting the country by doing this."
Hapuarachchi said the military will not charge Sri Lanka Cricket since armed service members are paid by the state.
The Navy will look after the Pallekelle Stadium, the air force the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo and the new army stadium in Hambantota, named after President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"We are in a salvage financial situation and we have to tighten our belts, so this is a forward plan in getting our finance right," Sri Lanka Cricket media manager Brian Thomas said.
Almost immediately after the war, the air force re-oriented some of its fleet to start an air service called Helitours to tap into the tourism boom, and the combined forces have since moved into many roles in the civilian world.
That includes mandatory military-led training for university entrants, selling vegetables, construction, development work and even mosquito eradication. The defence ministry was recently renamed the Defence and Urban Development Ministry.
Top military commanders have been posted all over the world as diplomats. Sri Lanka has around 350,000 armed forces members for a population of about 21 million, and the 2012 defence budget is expected to grow by 6.9 per cent.
The government says the armed forces should be used in post-war redevelopment and officials privately say they consider it crucial to keep them busy in a constructive manner. (Reuters)