Have the sports mandarins arrived?

Thursday, 1 December 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

This is the ninth article in the Daily FT’s fortnightly series titled ‘Business of Sports,’ focusing on the back office of the various sports administered and played in this country. Readers are invited to share their views and express their opinion via email to [email protected] on the features carried in this column so that a greater public participation in sports matters can surface and be debated for the benefit of all

Almost unnoticed in the Budget Speech was the reference to a sports economy in the making. This is a laudable proclamation given the belief that sports does not necessarily enjoy the same priority alongside the mainstream activities of the economy.

The reference also, unwittingly perhaps, expresses the notion of making Sri Lanka a sports hub; everything we attempt to do nowadays seems to be decorated with a hub status as if no other nation can make such claims to pretensions that have become our preserve. Cannot we do anything anymore without an avalanche of conceit, begs the question! Nevertheless, the attention sport is getting cannot be overlooked.

Budget benefits

Quite exquisitely, a list of tax incentives including an exclusion of income tax for foreign trainers and a ceiling of 35% duty at the point of entry are all positive sentiments aimed at causing affordable prices for imported sports goods and encouragement for those interested in putting their money where the action is; sports infrastructure and recreation facilities.

These ideas were in fact mooted in the sixth instalment of this very column that appeared on 20 October and therefore the relief and support expressed by the Budget are indeed laudable for its very simplicity.

It seems obvious that the Budget as conceived by the Government is clearly development-oriented and aimed at creating an accelerated process by drawing the entrepreneur into its fold.

However, as succinctly suggested by a renowned panellist at a recent post-Budget seminar, there appears to be an anxiety syndrome that seems to inhibit the business community and retards what must be a vigorous and rapid national aspiration of creating the ‘Wonder of Asia’.

This is a sad travesty from which we must escape and the Treasury Secretary, who was the Chief Guest at this very forum, made an impassioned plea to the business community present imploring a greater confidence in the Government and its burgeoning policy framework for the future, fast forward!

Negating confidence

It is therefore regrettable that the Government while on the one hand taking bold and decisive steps to propel the nation towards a developed State acts contrarily on other fronts, negating that very measure of confidence which emerges as the watchword on which future progress may hinge.

The recent Mulleriyawa fiasco, the Expropriation Bill and the Commonwealth Games jaunt are some very contentious issues that brings into question the real-politic of Government action.

The National Sports Policy draft document published in September 2011 carries many salient features notably the concept of institutional development, which emphasises the legal, governance, management and organisational aspects without which we often times lose our way. What it did not perhaps underline is the avoidance of the gross politicisation of sports, an anathema from which we continue to suffer irrationally.

CWG bid

The Commonwealth Games bid is a classic case of bravado in the face of overwhelming odds. While many champion sportsmen and sportswomen and a sporting public supported the perseverance of the Government in pursuing that goal, the manner in which it was executed at such tremendous cost of pomp and pageantry left many disillusioned and shamefaced.

The media was vociferous in its discontent and while it was claimed that the main opposition party endorsed the bid, the public outcry was accentuated due to the fun and frolics that seemed to take centre stage lead by no less than key Government personalities such as the Minister of Sports and the Governor of the Central Bank.

A small technical contingent from Australia making the bid for Brisbane effectively put Sri Lanka in its place, much to the relief of many people; even those in Government ranks.

In the aftermath of this debacle, both the Sports Minister and the CB Governor dismissed the widespread criticism, claiming that much of the funds came from private sources and that the development work in Hambantota would go on. To many people, that seemed to tell the story.

This bid appears to have been hatched and delivered to meet the aspirations of a few privileged persons. That it was not the outcome of a due diligence that should have engaged the most appropriate institutions in the country and offered the sanctity of transparency, was lost in the overriding desire to bring the games home, come what may!

Queries as to the sponsors and donors who came forward to bankroll the games bid was met with silence by the powers that be, once again leaving the public to wonder who these mandarins really were! Would they have remained silent if the bid was won?

SLC elections

Very soon, we will witness the SLC elections. Former President of SLC MP Thilanga Sumathipala convened a media conference to reassure his supporters that he remained a candidate when it appeared that there was a groundswell of support from Government ranks to retain Upali Dharmadasa without a contest.

It is hoped that saner counsel will prevail and that the gruesome antics seen in Mulleriyawa will not be enacted here. Importantly, it will be noble even, for the Ministry of Sports (MOS) and thus the Government to keep aloof and let the cricket constituencies make their choice.

Once done, let us all unite to get on with the game because right now our cricketers remain unpaid and underdone, having bitten the dust in the Middle East and now ready for the slaughter of the lambs in South Africa. Both candidates are tycoon material and their exploits are not lost on those who farm the sport.

While a billion rupee bailout package is simmering, these magnates know how to run a business and can be expected to turn around this dismal state of affairs! So, what the MOS should do is to leave it to them and regulate only where necessary.

Sports mandarins

Let us therefore return to the question in waiting. Have our sports mandarins arrived? If we counted the party that made their way to St. Kitts, there is little doubt, it seems. With many ready to rub shoulders with the likes of Branson and Mallaya and set up business models that may rival IMG, there is no shortage of top guns in our midst.

For sure, professionalism in sports is now a reality and like all nations, we will need our brash entrepreneurs to fire, if we are to create the momentum and groundwork to produce champions. Whether we like them or hate them does not really matter. What is important is that they play by the rules of law and do not cavort in the spotlight of political chicanery.

If it can restrict that unholy interaction, maintain a modicum of ethical behaviour and imbibe a sense of fair play in their dealings, then what else can we say? Let the games begin!