Sports Ministry’s hasty clean-up: A master class in constitutional ignorance?

Tuesday, 11 June 2024 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sports Minister Harin Fernando


Sports Minister Harin Fernando is in a mighty rush to “clean up” or rather “fix” issues in several sports associations across Sri Lanka. His zealous efforts, fuelled by advice that could easily be nicknamed after a beast with hooves, are starting to make him look like a bull in a china shop.

Currently, Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR), the Netball Federation, the Cycling Federation, and the Sri Lanka Automobile Sports are suspended and have been brought under the watchful eye of Professor (Rear Admiral) Shemal Fernando, the Director General of Sports at the Sports Ministry.

However, a recent newspaper announcement from the DG of Sports, calling all four associations to attend a Special General Meeting (SGM) on 12 and 13 June has caused quite a stir. This move blatantly disregards the fact that these associations are governed by their own constitutions.

Take Sri Lanka Rugby as an example. There are specific guidelines for calling a Special General Meeting, guidelines that have been strictly adhered to over the years. Even though SLR is a registered sports association under the Ministry of Sports, this does not give the Ministry the authority to bulldoze its way through in such a manipulative manner. World Rugby did suspend SLR and, after hearing grievances from A Division clubs, suggested lifting the suspension if certain constitutional amendments were made to give these clubs more voting power.

Minister Fernando may have been a mere child back in 1991 when SLR amended its constitution based on advice from New Zealander Jeff Matherson. Matherson recommended a Provincial Union system to spread rugby island-wide, leading to the formation of seven provincial unions: Western Province, Southern Province, North Western Province, Uva Province, Sabaragamuwa Province, North Central Province, and excluding the Eastern and Northern Provinces. This strategic plan worked well for decades, allowing 15 Presidents to be elected under this system.

Now, certain past Presidents and former Sports Ministers are attempting to hijack SLR through various means, making the well-functioning system suddenly problematic for four private A Division clubs. Reliable sources indicate that the seven provincial unions have officially written to the DG of Sports, highlighting his violation of the SLR constitution by calling for the SGM. These unions have quoted parts of the SLR constitution to emphasise the potential breaches if the SGM proceeds and have expressed their intent to seek legal action to protect SLR.

The Ministry of Sports has no authority to force amendments to the SLR constitution to suit the whims of World Rugby. Even though World Rugby is the parent body, it cannot dictate terms to SLR to amend its constitution solely to appease four A Division clubs.

It seems the Minister of Sports is receiving half-baked legal advice, leading the Ministry into unproductive legal battles. Unlike the former legal advisor Panduka Keerthinanda, who provided sound advice resulting in the enactment of Anti-Corruption, Match Fixing, and Betting Laws in sports, the current legal advisor appears to have a mediocre background, primarily in divorce cases. This incompetence is detrimental to sports in general. Perhaps the Minister of Sports should clean his own house before attempting to clean others.