The continuing politicization of cricket in Sri Lanka

The continuing politicization of cricket in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s Charith Asalanka celebrates after Sri Lanka won by 4 wickets during the third one-day international against Afghanistan at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Kandy on Nov. 30, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 16 December 2022

The continuing politicization of cricket in Sri Lanka

The continuing politicization of cricket in Sri Lanka
  • Sport’s historic values of fair play, respect for others are often exposed to political interference and machinations

The separation of cricket from politics has always been a fanciful notion. This is despite the British imperial attempt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to consider the sport as being above politics.

Under British imperialist noses, the Australian, South African and West Indian cricket teams, which played against England during those years, reinforced nationalist sentiments. Hence, cricket played a key role in the movements which led to the creation of those independent nation states. It is difficult to argue that cricket and politics were not already intertwined.

In his 2008 “Spirit of Cricket” lecture in 2008, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that “politics impinges on sport as much as on any other aspect of life.” Cricket’s historic core values of fair play and respect for others have provided a universal framework within which the game has been played. Tutu acknowledged that the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa, sparked by cricket, “played a crucial part in our liberation.”

Those core values, however, are constantly under strain. The ill-feeling generated by the “bodyline” series between Australia and England in 1932-33 still resonates. It adversely affected relations between the two governments and was a clear example of a collision between cricket and politics. Since that time, cricket has been continually exposed to political interference and machination. This is clearly evident in relations between India and Pakistan but, sadly, it has become an ever-present feature in their smaller, near neighbor, Sri Lanka.

In 1996, the Sri Lanka men’s cricket team won the ODI World Cup for the first time, beating Australia in Lahore. A decade of high achievement followed. The team was runners-up in both the 2007 and 2011 ODI World Cups, runners-up in the T20 World Cups of 2009 and 2012, before beating India in the 2014 final in Bangladesh. Since then, success has been hard to come by. Hopes of a brighter future were glimpsed in an unexpected triumph in the Asia Cup in September 2022. The tournament had been scheduled to be hosted in Sri Lanka but, because of the economic and political crisis in the country, was transferred to the UAE.

Sri Lanka’s cricketing stock has been plagued by controversy and crisis for many years. In 2012, the captain of the 1996 World Cup winning side, Arjuna Ranatunga, said that political interference was “ruining cricket” in the country, which “lacked a long-term vision for the sport.” He criticized the building of two new stadiums, which had led to debts of almost $70 million, instead of facilities to develop young cricketers, especially those from outside of Colombo.

Another member of the 1996 team and a former captain, Hashan Tillakaratne, claimed in 2011 that match fixing had been present in Sri Lankan Cricket (SLC) for well over a decade. Tillakaratne said that he was prepared to provide information to the International Cricket Council (ICC). Not only was his claim rejected by Sri Lanka’s sports minister, but he also received death threats. The minister had been in the post for only several months following the removal of his predecessor, who had made allegations against administrators at SLC. At the time, the ICC’s only comment was that it was a matter for its Anti-Corruption Unit.

Fast forward a decade and SLC has made an official complaint to the ICC over increasing political interference in its administration. The Sports Ministry has responded by demanding that SLC provide details. In a further twist, an opposition MP made a claim in Parliament that the two-match Test series between Sri Lanka and Pakistan was fixed. In the first Test, Pakistan was set a target of 342 to win, which they did for the fall of six wickets. Sri Lanka won the second Test. In response, SLC asked the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit to undertake an independent investigation, which is now underway.

Parliamentary interest in cricket increased following SLC’s decision to switch the Asia Cup to the UAE. Rumors abound of alleged deals by local officials to facilitate this, thereby depriving income-generating opportunities for the country at a time of economic crisis. None other than Arjuna Ranatunga, as chair of the advisory National Sports Council, supports the allegations. Relations between him and SLC are strained since his failed bid to enter cricket administration.

The ICC requires its member associations to be independent of national governments, yet, at the same time, accepts that domestic laws must be respected. SLC is accused by the Sports Ministry of failing to bring the matter to its notice before complaining to the ICC, an action which violates MP’s rights to speak about matters of public interest under the protection of Parliamentary privilege. The opposition MP has not complained to the Special Police Investigation Unit set up to probe sports-related corruption. Hence, it is not authorized to investigate.

It is evident that politics, politicians, cricket and some former cricketers are not separate in Sri Lanka. It is the only country which requires its sporting associations to have their teams signed off by the sports minister before leaving the country for international events. Between 2005 and January 2012, elections to SLC had been suspended because of infighting. During this time, the sport was led by an interim committee appointed by the country’s president, of all people. In 2015, a former player and captain, who had become an MP, was appointed as chair of the selection committee, an act that fit badly with the ICC’s wish for cricket administration to be divorced from political ties.

Throughout all of this, cricket remains a pan-Sri Lankan unifying force. Even when food and fuel shortages caused civil unrest in mid-2022, cricket continued and spectators attended matches against Australia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. On July 9, the second day of the second Test against Australia, thousands of people gathered on the walls of the fort that overlooks the ground at Galle. They protested against their government and agitated for its removal. The Sri Lankan team responded with an impressive victory. Cricket provided another example of its power to promote political expression.


Australia T20 skipper Finch quits international cricket

Australia T20 skipper Finch quits international cricket
Updated 07 February 2023

Australia T20 skipper Finch quits international cricket

Australia T20 skipper Finch quits international cricket
  • Cricket Australia chairman Lachlan Henderson said Finch finished as one of Australia’s best limited-overs players

MELBOURNE: Aaron Finch has retired from all international cricket after leading Australia in a record 76 games as captain of the Twenty20 squad.

Finch guided Australia to their first T20 world championship in 2021 and was captain again last year in its unsuccessful title defense on home soil.

The 36-year-old top-order batter also won a Cricket World Cup title with Australia in the 50 overs format at home in 2015 and played five Test matches across an international career spanning 12 years.

“Realizing that I won’t be playing on until the next T20 World Cup in 2024, now is the right moment to step down and give the team time to plan and build toward that event,” Finch said in a news conference Tuesday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Fast bowler Pat Cummins became captain of Australia’s ODI team when Finch retired from the one-day format last October to focus on T20 cricket. Cricket Australia hasn’t announced a replacement for the T20 team.

Australia were dominant in the traditional one-day format, winning four of the last six World Cups, but wasn’t able to convert that into the T20 version of the game until Finch’s squad won an against-the-odds title in the UAE in late 2021.

In all, Finch played 146 ODIs at an average of almost 39, and 103 T20 internationals at an average of 34.28 and a strike-rate of 142.53. He has twice held the record for highest score in a T20 international, posting 156 against England in 2013 and then setting the current mark of 172 against Zimbabwe at Harare in 2018.

Cricket Australia chairman Lachlan Henderson said Finch finished as one of Australia’s best limited-overs players.

“In full flight, there were few batters more powerful than Aaron, illustrated by the fact he holds two of the three highest ever scores in T20 International cricket,” Henderson said. “While he was a tough competitor on the field, Aaron always played the game with a smile on his face and in the right spirit.”


Justin Rose wins at Pebble Beach to end 4-year drought

Justin Rose wins at Pebble Beach to end 4-year drought
Updated 07 February 2023

Justin Rose wins at Pebble Beach to end 4-year drought

Justin Rose wins at Pebble Beach to end 4-year drought
  • The 42-year-old from England had not won since Torrey Pines in 2019, when he was No. 1 in the world
  • The weather played a big role all week, and no one benefited quite like Rose

PEBBLE BEACH, California: Justin Rose had a different set of goals at the start of the year.

His back was starting to become bothersome. His world ranking sank to its lowest point in 13 years. And he had reason to wonder if he would spend the first full week in April somewhere other than Augusta National.

All that changed Monday morning when Rose capped off a long week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with three quick birdies and four steady pars that gave him a three-shot victory, his first in four years.

Along with the crystal trophy — his 11th on the PGA Tour, 23rd worldwide — and the $1.62 million prize comes an invitation to the Masters. Rose has been eligible for every major dating to St. Andrews in 2010, a streak he did not want to end.

“Augusta’s definitely been a big part of being on my mind,” Rose said after closing with a 6-under 66 in cool but pristine conditions at Pebble Beach. “I thought the simple way to approach it was try to play my way into the top 50 in the world ... claw my way up the world rankings and make it that way.

“Obviously this,” he said, tapping the crystal on a table next to him, “is a better way to make it by winning a tournament. So yeah, big relief from that point of view.”

The wind-delayed tournament forced a Monday finish, and Rose had staked himself to a two-shot lead Sunday night with an eagle-birdie-par stretch along the ocean.

And then he delivered a knockout punch early to as many as a dozen players who were within three shots of the lead at various points on the course.

After a good two-putt par on the 10th to resume his round, Rose holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 11th, a 20-foot birdie putt on the 13th and then hit a wedge to the back shelf on the par-5 14th to 8 feet for a third birdie.

From there, it was about playing it safe and soaking up the views.

For all the weather this week — and it was everything, all the time — the final three hours featured a stunning blue sky and big surf, waves crashing into the rocks and adding to a scenery that already is among the best in golf.

Rose finished three shots clear of Brendon Todd (65) and Brandon Wu (66).

“An incredible week from start to finish with so much happening in my favor,” Rose said.

The 42-year-old from England had not won since Torrey Pines in 2019, when he was No. 1 in the world. He finished last year at No. 76, his lowest point since early in 2010.

“Amazing how long it’s been,” said Rose, whose victory moved him to No. 35.

The back nine, so difficult in the final hours Sunday evening, was hardly a threat Monday morning. The wind was light and coming from the opposite direction, if anything at the players’ backs instead of into them.

The weather played a big role all week, and no one benefited quite like Rose.

He was six shots out of the lead and going nowhere, facing the strongest wind of the week on the Shore course at Monterey Peninsula, when he hit 5-wood into the par-3 ninth to 3 feet. Before he could mark his ball, the wind blew it some 4 feet farther away.

That was enough for officials to halt play — the ninth and 15th greens at Monterey Peninsula were the problems — on all three courses in the rotation. Rose returned Sunday morning and made what then was a 7-foot birdie putt.

What would have been the odds of him winning if golf balls — his and others — were not blowing around at that point?

“It hurts them considerably. Yeah, that was a break,” Rose said. “I guess if you are out here long enough on tour, occasionally you catch a good break. So that was a good one.”

He played those final 10 holes in 6 under for a 65 to take the lead, and then a pivotal stretch Sunday evening gave him a cushion. Rose took it from there, a masterclass weekend of iron play and great putting.

Denny McCarthy was two shots behind when play resumed and had birdie chances on the 16th and 17th that he couldn’t covert. He wound up with a 64 and finished four shots behind, along with Keith Mitchell (68) and Peter Malnati (69).

This week of weather was more about wind than rain, although Pebble offered a little of everything. At one point on Sunday, there was rain, wind, hail and sunshine, all within a one-hour window.

That was all a distant memory when Rose finished with a smile as bright as the sun.

“Just that walk up 18, to be able to build a bit of a lead, to kind of enjoy it, was a very special moment,” he said. “Think when you’re a bit starved for a win as well, the fact that it came today on a weather day like we had and at a venue that we had today was just worth waiting for.”


Super Bowl opening night returns with circus atmosphere

Super Bowl opening night returns with circus atmosphere
Updated 07 February 2023

Super Bowl opening night returns with circus atmosphere

Super Bowl opening night returns with circus atmosphere
  • The circus atmosphere that kicks off the NFL’s biggest week returned Monday for the first time since 2020

PHOENIX: Nick Sirianni answered questions about Rocky, Santa Claus and even which of his players on the Philadelphia Eagles he’d want to date his 5-year-old daughter when she grows up.

Welcome to Super Bowl opening night where football talk gives way to the wild and wacky.

The circus atmosphere that kicks off the NFL’s biggest week returned Monday for the first time since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic forced teams to meet the media on video conferences the past two seasons.

Sirianni and the Eagles took the stage first at Footprint Center, home of the Phoenix Suns. “Fly, Eagles, Fly” chants greeted players and coaches before they spent an hour answering wide-ranging questions from more than 2,000 media members.

For the record, Sirianni loves the Rocky movies. He identifies with Sylvester Stallone’s fictional movie character, who is part of Philadelphia’s fabric as much as the cheesesteak.

“I live and coach in the greatest sports town in America,” Sirianni said. “It means so much to everybody there. That’s what you want. When you’re a little kid playing in a peewee football game, you want everybody to see you. You want your fans to love it. You want them to be there. You want them wearing green on Friday. You want them to be throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. You want to put talent on display in front of the greatest sports town in America. I love the fact that my kids are growing up in a sports town where football means so much because football means so much to me.”

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, an AP NFL MVP finalist, drew the largest crowd. Reporters staked out his spot about an hour before the event started. The first question came from Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, an NFL Network analyst.

“I feel like it’s not a time to reflect,” Hurts said about his journey to stardom. “We came here to finish the job.”

Overall, opening night wasn’t quite as outrageous as past years.

In Arizona in 2008, a female reporter showed up wearing a white wedding dress and veil and proposed to Tom Brady, who was trying to lead the New England Patriots to the first 19-0 season in NFL history.

One radio host walked around shirtless wearing a barrel. Otherwise, it was more about odd questions than odd looks.


How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges
Updated 07 February 2023

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges
  • The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven

GENEVA: The English Premier League vs. Manchester City: A legal fixture for the ages.

Soccer’s richest and most watched club competition challenged its defending champion on Monday with more than 100 charges of alleged financial wrongdoing and failures to cooperate with an investigation that took more than four years.

Dozens of charges allege breaches of the league’s financial monitoring rules dating from 2009, or the first full season Man City was owned by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Thirty more charges relate to Man City’s lack of cooperation in the past five seasons with a Premier League investigation that opened after leaked, and likely hacked, club internal communications were published in 2018.

That leaked evidence led UEFA investigators to examine likely breaches of financial rules designed to create stability in an often-volatile European soccer industry. UEFA-appointed judges imposed a two-year ban from the Champions League in 2020, which the club overturned on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Man City seem more at risk from the English case, which does not involve a statute of limitations on evidence that was a problem for UEFA lawyers.

The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven. That could range from imposing a fine to taking away a title or even ejecting Man City from England’s top division.

Here’s a closer look at the case:

WHAT ARE THE FINANCIAL RULES?

Known as Financial Fair Play, the regulations are aimed at preventing clubs from spending more than they earn. FFP was established in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, which deepened worries in European soccer that clubs could go out of business if the cost of player transfers and wages kept rising.

Critics believed they would favor storied clubs with established global appeal, such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Manchester United. They said FFP would be used to thwart emerging clubs who had wealthy owners ready to spend heavily and accelerate growth.

At the same time, historically underachieving Manchester City were bought in September 2008 with sovereign wealth from the UAE. When UEFA in 2011 began monitoring finances of clubs who qualified for European competition, City had made progress by big spending on players.

The first round of FFP judgments in 2014 saw the heaviest penalties for Man City and Paris Saint-Germain — each lost 20 million euros ($21.4 million) in Champions League prize money.

Both were suspected of booking inflated revenue in their accounts through sponsor deals at above market rates with companies from Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

“If clubs use unrealistic deals as a way to get around Financial Fair Play,” Arsène Wenger had warned in 2012 when coach at Arsenal, “it will make a mockery of the rules.”

The English Premier League later adopted a version of UEFA FFP rules.

WHAT WAS THE LEAKED EVIDENCE?

In November 2018, Man City was the Premier League champion with three titles in the first decade of its Abu Dhabi era, and a lavishly talented squad coached by Pep Guardiola.

Yet skepticism remained about the club’s commercial results.

German magazine Der Spiegel then published the “Football Leaks” series of articles based on the club’s internal documents and communications.

They suggested Man City had broken FFP rules in financial relationships with “related-party” sponsors from Abu Dhabi, its use of image rights payments to players and the contract of Roberto Mancini, who was manager from 2009-13. He allegedly doubled his base salary for advising a club in Abu Dhabi.

Man City did not deny the documents were authentic but said they were illegally obtained by a Portuguese man, Rui Pinto. He later went on trial in Lisbon. A verdict is scheduled in April.

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE UEFA CASE?

After the Football Leaks publication, UEFA’s club investigators revisited their case and asked the judging chamber to ban Man City from European competitions.

In February 2020, those judges banned Man City for two seasons for “serious breaches” of rules from 2012-16, including overstating sponsor revenue and failing to cooperate with investigators.

Three CAS judges overturned the ban in July 2020, ruling that some UEFA charged were not proven and other evidence was excluded as time-barred. The court “strongly condemned” Man City for obstructing UEFA’s investigation, though a €10 million ($10.7 million) fine was one-third of the original punishment.

Allowed to play in the next Champions League, Man City reached the final and earned €119 million ($128 million) in prize money.

WHAT IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE CASE?

The English case against Man City continued separately from the UEFA process in Switzerland.

The Premier League announced charges Monday. A lawyer who chairs the league’s judicial panel will appoint a disciplinary commission of three judges.

A hearing will be held in secret, with no timetable yet for a verdict. Any subsequent legal challenge should go to the Premier League’s Appeal Board.

Man City said it was surprised by the charges and “we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”


Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup
Updated 07 February 2023

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup
  • Madrid will debut on Wednesday in a semifinal against Egyptian club Al-Ahly

MADRID: Real Madrid go to the Club World Cup without six injured players, including striker Karim Benzema and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Also not going to Morocco are defenders Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Lucas Vázquez and forward Eden Hazard.

Benzema, Courtois and Militao have not been ruled out of joining their teammates for an eventual final if Madrid qualify, but none of the others are expected to make it.

Madrid will debut on Wednesday in a semifinal against Egyptian club Al-Ahly.

Madrid have won the world club title a record seven times, including three times when the competition was called the Intercontinental Cup.