Thursday, March 04, 2010

Jayasuriya not first, but questions galore

Sanath Jayasuriya is not the first cricketer to enter into politics while still playing. The former England captain Ted Dexter continued playing for the country having contested for the Conservatives, and losing, in the UK general election in 1964.

And the legendry England cricketer, footballer and holder of world long-jump record C. B. Fry stood, unsuccessfully, for the Liberal Party three times.

But Jayasuriya, who holds many cricket world records may be on his way to creating another one. He will be the only cricketer ever to have played international cricket while being an MP.

Jayasuriya's decision to run in April's parliamentary elections has also created fresh controversy in the cricket loving nation.

Sri Lankan Sports Minister, Gamini Lokuge, told the BBC Sinhala service that even every member of the national cricket team has a right to be a parliamentarian while playing international cricket.

"We are not concerned whether they are parliamentarians or not. If they are qualified and still playing cricket, they all have the opportunity to play for the country."

"They all can be MPs but they should attend practice sessions and obey the rules of the game," he adds.

Jayasuriya who had retired from Test cricket said he would continue playing one-day internationals (ODIs) representing Sri Lanka and in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

"Since I am not playing Test Cricket, I will have enough time for politics," he said.

Speaking to the BBC Tamil service Jayasuriya said: "I have already campaigned for the president in the last elections. He requested me to contest this election."

Sri Lanka's former Test captain Arjuna Ranatunga said about Jayasuriya’s decision to enter politics while still playing. "Jayasuriya is in the last stages of his career and we know very well that he currently holds no permanent place in the team”."Jayasuriya has indicated that he would continue to play until the 2011 World Cup, so as he has currently no permanent place, perhaps he might be trying to use his political influence to get a permanent place in the team, " says Ranatunga.

Sri Lanka's only woman Olympic medallist, Susanthika Jayasinghe, is another sports personality contesting the parliamentary election.

Jayasinghe claimed that she was invited to enter into politics a few years ago but she refused.

"Then I could not chose one political party over another as I was representing my motherland and I needed everybody's blessings for that journey," she said.

Legal experts say there is nothing in the law to prevent sports personalities from contesting elections while playing for the country.

But a former chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises, Wijedasa Rajapaksa, PC, said it was "unfortunate" that Jayasuriya had decided to break a long-standing tradition of sports personalities not being involved in politics while still active in sport.

Some critics also say the sports minister's decision to support Jayasuriya appears to contradict some of the choices he has made in the past.

They point to the time when the minister rejected a proposal by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to appoint former Test captain Hashan Thilakaratne, currently an opposition politician, as the manager of the team.

"The same minister then rejected Hashan's nomination saying he should either chose sports or politics," says Arjuna Ranathunga, who was the then president of the SLC.

Minister Lokuge says he still holds the same view regarding the issue.

"Jaysuriya is a player but Thilakratne was to be appointed as the manager who controls the team. If we appoint a politician as the manager of the national cricket team, he might have been biased towards one political party," he says.

“The apparent duplicity in authorities' views is an indication of the direction the country is heading in”, said Wijedasa Rajapaka.

"If Jayasuriya was to contest from an opposition political party while playing for the country, he would have been shown the door from the team on the same day. This is the reality in Sri Lanka.", said Rajapaksa.

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