- I don’t think any interim committee has made any progress.
- Political interference has ruined the game many a time by appointing political (interim) committees.
- The Nidhahas Trophy is going to give us another US$25 million at least.
- We’re now getting an average US$15 million, which is US$138 million dollars from ICC over eight years.
- Since we came in in 2016, all our accounts have been audited by the Auditor General.
- We’re intending to (produce) 150 days of live matches from September onwards
- We’re happy that Shashank has come back and withdrawn his resignation
- If there is a malpractice or misdeed we will make sure it is stopped.
- I never said I was going to contest and I never said I was going to canvas for the post
- If you look at ‘One team, One nation’, our launch was very effective.
- Mathews is our best all-rounder and he can’t bowl because he’s injured.
- Mathews is by far the best man to captain the team.
- I am not going to go to the ICC to any office even if I was asked to.
Despite being Sri Lanka Cricket’s first democratically elected President in over 10 years – after successions of Interim Committees had stalled the smooth implementation of policies and development work – Thilanga Sumathipala’s fourth term has not been without its criticisms.
Even as investments have been made to develop the game across all levels, there has been a steady stream of allegations, albeit still unfounded, of corruption mostly against his associates, with critics irked by Sumathipala’s reluctance to take any action against them.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Sumathipala discussed the progress made in the year and a half since taking over the Presidency and clarified reports of a failed attempt to take over the International Cricket Council (ICC) Chairmanship.
Q Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) was in a dire financial situation over the last few years. The last interim committee made some progress in reversing that, but where is SLC financially at the moment?
I don’t think any interim committee has made any progress. They have only dragged SLC into a disaster situation every time there was an interim committee. It is very sad. Political interference has ruined the game many a time by appointing political (interim) committees. This was not an acceptable thing by the world governing body and (countries) are suspended the moment you have a non-elected, politically appointed committee – not just in cricket but in any sport.
We have suffered financially due to interim committees and having employed people in various places and constructing stadiums at the will of the government. This interim arrangement is disastrous and most unsuitable for any sport in the world. One of the reasons we are down financially and are unstable is due to the politically appointed committees (that ran SLC), many a time with lot of disruptions. When we came into power through a democratic process in January 2016, we couldn’t find anything that was going right. The team was in disarray, disturbed, with no support, no coaching, no assistant (coaching) team being recruited or deployed because interim committees couldn’t sustain a top class coach. Nobody wanted to come and work and they didn’t have confidence in interim committees. Administration (was a mess) and the permanent staff didn’t know which way to go. At least if the direction was being sanctioned by the general membership, they know it’s a policy matter, but the interim committees can’t deal with the policy. There was no district development or provincial development system, (domestic) structures were haphazardly expanded, and there was no proper contract for the domestic cricketers.
When it comes to domestic cricket, we have virtually turned it upside down. We are confined to 24 top clubs to play cricket and they are split among two tiers
Financially we were not stabilized (under interim committees). ICC had stopped paying us money and it was in a reserve account, so we had to collect that money after we got back. When we came in, we made an assessment of the situation, where we were going wrong and we managed to put our house in order, slowly. It was difficult, we were cash strapped. So we managed to talk to the ICC and get our money back. We added another additional tournament next year -- the Nidhahas Trophy -- which is going to give us another US$25 million at least. We were getting only US$7 million earlier, because our interim committees signed and sanctioned the ‘Big Three’ agreement. The interim committees virtually agreed to the two-tier (test system). We can’t be a second class cricket playing nation. After all these things, we fought with the ICC and stood our ground. We’re now getting an average US$15 million, which is US$138 million dollars from ICC contribution over eight years. It’s huge money. It was only 78 million before -- (it’s) an increase of almost 40 million dollars.
Our strength is that we are elected. People respect us because they understand we have been elected. When you go after politicians and get elected into interim committees, do you think they can perform? No. I think the biggest cancer we ever had in this country was the interim committee system. We’re glad that the current Sports Minister understands that. The President of the country gave a directive that we can never have haphazard committees hereafter in this country – not only for cricket. People are still going after certain politicians and talking about interim committees, interim because they only know how to get back and live out of it. Such people, like Sidath Wettimuny -- I can’t believe his effort to come to serve under an interim committee. He only served himself as Chairman.
Q But Sidath was highly regarded as a man of integrity, for his work during his tenure in the Interim Committee...
Mr. Sidath Wettimunny took 35,000 dollars out of CBFA funds for himself while serving as Interim Committee chairman and he gave another 55,000 dollars to two of his brothers. Three members from his family received 90,000 dollars. Can you call that integrity? Everytime he comes here he brings his first cousin, who also manages players. You call that integrity? You have to be transparent, honest and open. Sidath has played good cricket. But I’m sad to say, unless its an interim committee, he’ll never serve here because he’s questionable and cannot be answerable. He passed three construction projects, unofficially, unauthorised, without local authorities approval. In Kandy alone, he passed Rs.110 million but we completed the indoor nets project within our premises (at the Pallekele Stadium) for under Rs.40 million so far. We can do the swimming pool and everything at the high performance centre in Kandy. He was free to do that because he was not answerable. The cricket board was a mess during the interim committees but now everything is going in the right direction.
Development has been taking place around the country but due to our cash flow we’re mindful about how much to set aside in 2017, ‘18 and ‘19. We’ve curtailed a lot of expenses and reduced our costs
Q Finance was one of the six pillars – along with international cricket, domestic cricket, administration, corporate communication and development – that you spoke about when you were campaigning to become SLC President. How far along is the SLC in implementing those plans?
If you look at International Cricket, we’re slowly but surely improving. At the moment, its because of injuries and various senior players are experiencing some kind of sustainability (issues) and we’re experiencing a bit of a pressure. But the fact remains that there are wonderful, outstanding world class cricketers coming up everyday. We have managed to bring Asian Cups for the Under 16, 19 and 23 age groups and for women, every year or every other year. It was indisputably the best effort to bring the ACC to Colombo. It’s a huge feather in the Sri Lankan cap.
When it comes to domestic cricket, we have virtually turned it upside down. We are confined to 24 top clubs to play cricket and they are split among two tiers. If you don’t give the tier two clubs First Class status, everyone will only come to the top 14 clubs in Colombo city. The players may think that if they play for certain clubs they are not First Class. So all the top players from outstation areas will leave that and come to Colombo (why First Class status was given to more clubs). It’s important to distribute the opportunity.
Development has been taking place around the country but due to our cash flow we’re mindful about how much to set aside in 2017, ‘18 and ‘19. We’ve curtailed a lot of expenses and reduced our costs.
In the field of finances we’re stronger than ever before. We’ve put down some good controls. Our biggest challenge was to go before the FCID and before various inquiries in the last seven years. Last year there were a lot of misdeeds and mismanagement before we came. We’re still clearing the backlog. I’m glad to say since we came in in 2016, all our accounts have been audited by the Auditor General. We passed our accounts unanimously because it was clean. Our problem is to rectify what happened in the past, a lot of time has been wasted but that, you have to live with.
We didn’t have a corporate communication (section). We now have our own crew covering matches. We’re intending to (produce) 150 days of live matches from September onwards and do about 200 days of commentary. We believe the cricket board has to bring awareness, so we signed an agreement with Dialog television to have a direct to home channel dedicated to cricket. We’re investing in bringing players into the limelight.
In terms of administration, we’re going to have some highly qualified people recruited into areas like marketing.
We found certain areas that are weak and we’re working on transforming them.
Q You also said that the main focus was transforming our national team into a consistently winning side that can sustain its place at the top. However, it seems Sri Lanka has regressed over this last year and we’ve come down the rankings. What do you see as the reason for this and does it concern you that there doesn’t appear to be signs of a turnaround?
We haven’t come down the rankings as such. Bangladesh is improving. But Bangladesh can’t improve by only playing against Sri Lanka, can they? They beat a lot of teams. Their eleven players have more than 1,100 ODIs between them. Our eleven players don’t have even 500 ODIs. When you consistently pursue with the same experienced players, you get better results. I voted with them to become full members. As an Asian country, I am happy for Bangladesh. That doesn’t mean that because Bangladesh is doing well, Sri Lanka is bad. We’re improving, we’re going up. We beat Australia 3-0. We went to South Africa and Australia and beat them 2-1 in the T20 series. That’s something we should be proud of. Obviously we had a bad series or two because of injuries. Even now Angelo is not 100 percent fit. He had a severe problem (on Sunday). He’s our best all-rounder and he can’t bowl, what can we do? Malinga is only bowling eight overs. But we need them. Can you think of discarding them with the millions of rupees invested in them, the years of experience in the middle. Even youngsters like Chandimal and Dickwella got injured, its a sad situation. If we had experienced what we did with Angelo over the last year with regards to injuries from a youngster under the age of 23 or 24, I don’t think SLC would have entertained it, because we can’t afford to. When you have the captain coming and going from the side, destabilising and then stabilising the team, it’s a huge challenge. But he is by far the best man to captain the team – the best we have in the top 20 to captain. We’re lucky to have Upul Tharanga to stand by and that’s why we made him the Vice Captain, because he can chip in and take over at any given time. Chanimdal was not amongst runs and we thought Chandimal would be the next Captain. He’s a good cricketer but he still doesn’t have 100 percent in the 50 over team. We have to adjust ourselves to get the best out of these 20 top players, so considering that I think we’re doing well.
Q Sri Lanka voted in favour of India at the ICC meeting in April and was the only board to support them. What was the thinking behind this?
SLC took up two positions. One is you can’t have finance tied up into constitution. You have to break that into two. And I voted against that and said that the financial model has to be taken away and you can’t bring it in together. In January, that was the argument and we voted against it. The financial model I said, we had to negotiate with India, rather than voting (on it). In the April meeting it was split into two, so we voted with the Financial model but at that meeting there was no document tabled for the changes (to the governance structure). We wrote to the ICC in March and said these are the concerns we have, unless you agree with these changes, SLC may not be able to vote (in favour). We voted against the ICC in the governance structure changes, because we hadn’t seen the documents at that time with the new proposal governance structure. We have received those documents now and we will have a look at it at the June 22 ICC board meeting. In the meantime, the Ex-Co has referred this to the board lawyers, who are looking into it and advising the board on what the effect of this will be on SLC.
Q It was reported that you had made a claim to take up the ICC Chairmanship in the event it falls vacant. Did you have support from any of the countries before you said this?
I had a press conference the day Shashank Manohar resigned and I said what we’re looking for was the stability of the ICC. We didn’t have a Vice President to take over, we didn’t have a system to continue and the ICC had not foreseen this situation. So in terms of stability, I said we needed to go in and change the constitution, or make sure that stability was restored. I’m the most experienced man in world cricket and ICC today. So I know what is needed for the ICC. My advice is given and I addressed the ICC requirement. We’re happy that Shashank has come back and withdrawn his resignation, and he chaired the meeting in April, so we’re happy. People are of the view that there should be continuation with him until the June meeting of 2018 takes place and he agreed to stay back. I never discussed anything other than stability. People wanted me to intervene because I am the most experienced. And if (the need is) at that point of time to intervene and take over, as stop-gap and support the ICC, I have no problems with it. I never said I was going to contest and I never said I was going to canvas for the post. We’re happy that the ICC is stable again. In fact I proposed that there should be a Vice President at the ICC for an emergency like this. There are also certain people who are ganging up together and getting people to continuously write about an interim committee. I don’t understand their ethics, or their philosophy because when it comes to the ICC they say it should be elected and democratic but here we’re going with a democracy and democratic process and they are representing the interim committee view.
Q You deny the reports that certain member nations had asked Manohar to return after you expressed interest to take over if required?
Manohar staying back had nothing to do with me. He decided to resign and then decided to stay back. I’m happy there’s stability. If there is a requirement by the members for me to take over and become the chairman of the ICC, if the members are willing to propose my name, and go through with it, I will consider at that time. But I never canvassed, never asked members to propose me. But, as of this moment in time, I am not going to go to the ICC to any office even if I was asked to, for the next three years. I am very busy as I have undertaken a lot of responsibility in the government as the deputy speaker, as well as all the other party politics I am involved with. I don’t think I have time, to consider the ICC top post. I didn’t want to say that in public, because my focus was to bring stability back. Because I voted against governance and the finance structure in January, because I am still maintaining my position in regards to governance structure, people who were not with that were trying to bring a wedge but none of that has to do with the being the head of ICC.
Q Two major allegations were made over the last year and a half that you have been the president, relating to sexual harassment and match-fixing. Have these allegations been properly investigated and will those involved be brought to book?
I am very keen about the match-fixing allegations. I am very serious about that matter, if there is a malpractice or misdeed we will do everything possible to make sure it is stopped. We’re very concerned and I will deal with that. But investigations are taking its pace because of tournament rules and the right to appeal and before end of June, hopefully we’ll have a final decision on that. I am very upset about the information I have got, which I will deal with. I am very serious about it.
I don’t think I will tolerate any malpractices or anyone who steals from Sri Lanka Cricket. I’ve never taken a single penny from the game of cricket
About the sexual harassment allegations, the person can make a complaint to the Police Child and Women’s Bureau and there can be an independent inquiry. While she was in office, I don’t think there was a complaint. Once she left, she made complaints. This is not the place to have an inquiry into a person who is no lounger an employee. These are all things she was talking about before I came here and I don’t think the board can go into that.
Q There is also a perception that Mr. Thilanga Sumathipala turns a blind eye to corruption involving people closest to him.
I don’t think I will tolerate any malpractices or anyone who steals from Sri Lanka Cricket. I’ve never taken a single penny from the game of cricket. In fact I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on cricket. That’s my reputation. I don’t tolerate nonsense and anyone playing out money. But the thing is, for the last seven, eight, ten years, there had been suppliers, there had been people who had been engaged with these allegations. So the perception has been created based on that. When some officials were here, the SLPL for example was conducted incorrectly. (It was) a million dollar deal which (many) said was a malpractice and then some people were retiring by earlier political people. The word corrupt means badly run and that’s the perception of the institute. Obviously when we came in, we were saddled with the system. We are now slowly clearing up one by one. The problem is, I’m aggressive and I like to do things fast but the system is so slow. We’re handicapped in that sense. I think we retained the best possible consultants and when you work with those people, there is no way anyone can play out SLC. When people know they can’t touch me, they try to make me weaker. One way is to attack my associates. If they are up to mischief I can get affected. But if I see anything wrong, I will take action. I don’t want any corrupt officer, anyone unfit to be here, they won’t be tolerated. The perception and reputation of the board is important. Goodwill has to be maintained and you can’t do that unless we create good feeling. If you look at ‘One team, One nation’, our launch was very effective. I don’t think any brand in the last 12 months created that kind of payoff. So I won’t allow malpractices in SLC (to create a negative perception).