From grace to disgrace: How the mighty have fallen

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So, what news would you like first? The good, the bad or the utterly deplorable?

To put some smiles on the faces of the despondent millions preparing to meet even more economic hardships when the new VAT swats at the dawn of the new year, the good news is that Sri Lanka Cricket’s functioning president Shammi Silva said he might quit his current role the next time round.

Normally such news would have been greeted with the bursting of firecrackers (as happened some time back outside the UNP’s Siri Kotha headquarters with little else for the electorally eliminated party to celebrate) and the burning of incense.

But even such good news that should have been joyously welcomed by the multitude that clamoured to kick the ruddy lot in the SLC out, seemed unusually muted. That comes as no surprise. The news website that carried the story of an SLC media conference where its first eleven was spewing defiance, seemed unsure. Its headline read “Shammi Silva to not contest SLC presidency again”.

What gave the game—not cricket which game had been given away a long time ago—was that the headline ended with a question mark.

The implication was all too obvious. Would a cricket-crazy population see the man go after three seasons in the box seat and years of free travel in the cricket world? “I will not hold this position for my whole life,” he was quoted as saying with a certain certainty.

I don’t know about Shammi Silva but people do change their minds, especially those in high office where the glamour, power and influence of position, the glitter of the perks and the splash of dollars have a magnetic attraction from which it seems virtually impossible to detach oneself.

Remember how one executive president hurried to try and change the constitution so that the two-term limit in the presidential post could be wiped away and an incumbent could cling on till death ends a glorious innings.

Some derisively called it “lifetime” president for there were those who prayed for extended longevity. Remember Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe who seemed to live forever and only surrendered when his health gave way.

So, when Shammie Silva said he would not hold the post for his whole life there were inevitable sniggers. After all, he did not say how long that would be, did he?

Meanwhile, however much SLC tries to wriggle away claiming that it is a private body and that it acts independently and owes no responsibility to state institutions or the Auditor General as it did when the AG’s draft report hit the news media a few months back, that bluster was quickly deflated.

Just the other day I watched two videos on past sittings of parliament’s Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), the first one chaired by then JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti in early September 2019 and the second chaired by Prof. Charitha Herat sometime in 2020-2021.

Both were attended by officials of SLC where they were examined by COPE members and a representative of the Auditor-General. The fact that the SLC made asses of themselves under close scrutiny is secondary.

What was crucial is that SLC was summoned before this parliamentary committee and they attended and submitted themselves to close querying by members and the AG.

If SLC was trying to put on a brave face at the first flush of AG’s querying of last year’s Australian tour saying it was beyond the pale of the Auditor General’s scrutiny, what on earth was the SLC’s high and mighty doing at COPE meetings earlier as it was doing at its sessions a couple of weeks back and submitting to questioning by the AG.

The fluster at the COPE meetings turned to bluster at the SLC media conference where President Shammie Silva was trying to maintain that the AG’s report was not accusing it of corruption, financial fiddling and other shenanigans but recommending a sprucing up of its procedures.

That is what I understood him to be saying at the media briefing, unless of course. I had been reading some other report by the AG, not to mention views of the ICC about Sri Lanka Cricket as quoted by a past Sports Minister Harin Fernando on his return from Dubai after a chat with the international body.

The ICC which now seems to damn us for delving into the administration of SLC had rated Sri Lanka as the most corrupt cricketing nation. Harin Fernando said the “ICC feels that Sri Lanka cricket administration is corrupt from top to bottom”.

Fernando’s quotes of the ICC’s assessment about SLC’s administration referred to by me a year or more later in this column in May 2020 never contradicted by Harin Fernando or the ICC. Note that the ICC was talking of the cricket administration, which if we are to believe the current administrators, has undergone a magical transmogrification.

While Shammi’s Per Diem Collectors vs Parliamentary Pachorises continue their series with a little bit of match-fixing by Hon The Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana who gave his own twists to an already twisted Duckworth-Lewis system, to postpone the game until COPE chairman Ranjit Bandara recovers from his badly wounded pride and rehearses his hand signals, there was bad news elsewhere.

Also taking a hammering at the match on Hulftsdorp Hill where the “Pohottuwa Upstarts” had been bundled out by a sustained pace attack maintaining superb line and length that the disoriented Upstarts are calling for change of venue to Diyawanna Oya where they can round up enough raucous recalcitrants and even the convicted, not to mention some handbag-swirling loudmouths.

It is not for nothing that some so-called representatives of the people—not for long thousands surely sincerely hope—have been practising the art of rowdyism with such gusto as was clearly seen just recently as though practise was really necessary.

Having turned the country’s parliament, a one-time House of Fame, into a House of Shame and tried to wipe the ignominy of the defeat at Hulftsdorp by singing the praises of the discarded leaders, they hope to frighten the Hulftsdorp players to abandon their style of play while the spineless umpires, chosen by the Diyawanna team look on.

With space limited one can only mention a few players who adorned whatever sport they represented such as Robert Senanayake, Dr NM Perera, Gamini Dissanayake and Ana Punchihewa who brought dignity to the cricket administration.

Parliament shone because of great elected MPs who brought a cultivated and civilised aura to the House of the people, unlike today when it is occupied by some who claim fame, armed with their O-Levels and No-levels, desecrating the sanctity of a Parliament where great oratory and knowledge once flowed, unlike the polluted waters of Diyawanna.

It is scant wonder then that be it the playing field, the chamber and corridors of parliament and seats of honour in the House and high office, this country has moved inexorably from grace to disgrace, from the heights of Olympus to the depths of depravity.

Gamini Weerakoon


It is with great sadness that I read of the passing of my dear, long-time friend and colleague Gamini “Gamma” Weerakoon who I worked with at Lake House covering the proceedings of that Great Parliament by the Sea. For years we were part of a great and close team from the days I was a parliament sketch writer for the Daily News and later as Parliamentary Editor while his wife Rajitha was attached to the Observer.

The last time we met was at the “Mustangs” at the Royal-Thomian of 2020 when we did what we used to do many a time in the past–shared a couple (?) of drinks. Since then, Covid and medical advice kept me away from visiting what was once home.

Until I do justice to your memory and ours in the coming days, farewell dear friend and schoolmate.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)