“Don’t hold us at gunpoint” – 24 Sri Lankan cricketers refuse to sign contract

Written by Vishwas Gupta

In an unprecedented move, a total of 24 national Sri Lanka cricketers have collectively refused to sign the contracts, while blaming cricket board to put them a gunpoint. The Players are up in arms over the scheme which has forced a significant cut on their annual earnings with some losing as much as US$ 50,000 compared to the previous year.

Players have now been categorised into four groups according to a new points system which gives priority to levels of fitness, discipline, performance in international and domestic cricket during the last two years, leadership and overall value to the team. They are now demanding that the Board discloses the points allotted to each in order to understand the thought process.

In a 3 page long joint statement, released by their representative Attorney-at-law Nishan Sydney, players have hit back at SLC officials in a big way. The players have vehemently condemned the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) management Committee’s decision to publicly reveal the specific payment details of contract fees paid to specific players.

Nishan Sydney had issued this press release on behalf of following cricketers: Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Suranga Lakmal, KusaI Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya De Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Mendis, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lasith Embuldeniya, Pathum Nissanka, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dushmantha Chameera, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Vishwa Fernando, Isuru Udana, Oshada Fernando, Ramesh Mendis, Lahiru Kumara, Danushka Gunathillaka, Ashen Bandara and Akila Dhananjaya.

The full statement reads:

At the very outset, the players are up in arms over the scheme which has forced a significant cut on their annual earnings with some losing as much as US$ 50,000 compared to the previous year. The players are shocked and dismayed that the Management Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket, through a press conference held on 19th May 2021, has seen it fit to release to the public, specific payment details of contract fees paid to specific players, in a one sided manner, without placing the same in the context of earnings of players in other cricketing nations, the entire earnings of Sri Lanka Cricket and also without disclosing the payments made to the officials/administrators, coaches and support staff of Sri Lanka Cricket. It is also a worrying state of affairs when an organization embarks to effect such disclosures and attempts to do so solely in respect of one segment of its carder.

The players categorically state that the conduct of the Management Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket greatly concerns the players and has affected their self-confidence and peace of mind. Furthermore, these disclosures in respect of payment amount to a grave security concern to each and every player.

During negotiations in respect of these Annual Contracts with SLC, it has always been the position of the players that they in principle are agreeable to a proper, transparent performance-based model, where each player would be assessed and categorized on attributes of performance. However, despite the players’ requests from the Management Committee for information regarding the manner in which points were allocated in respect of the categorization, none of the players have been provided with their individual assessment sheets setting out how points were awarded under the criteria of performance, fitness, leadership and professionalism.

The Management Committee, the Coach and the Selectors have, for reasons unknown to the players, to date, unreasonably failed and refused to disclose such information. All national players, in unison, are of the view that the players should be made aware of the assessment scores of each player in order to ensure transparency of the categorization process. This will afford the players an opportunity to ascertain the manner in which they have been categorized and to enable each player the opportunity to address their weaknesses. Failure to disclose such information creates disharmony, raises reasonable concerns in respect of bias/ favoritism, and casts doubt as to the validity of the entire process.

The players are also surprised that amidst ongoing negotiations and in the circumstances where the formulation of contracts had not been formally concluded, the Management Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket, in an unreasonable hurry, attempted to place hard copies of the Annual Contracts before the players to obtain their signature a few hours before the players were to depart to Bangladesh for the ODI series. At this juncture, the players’ concerns had not been addressed by Sri Lanka Cricket and furthermore, the legal provisions of the contracts had not yet been formalized.

It is also noteworthy that as per the information received from FICA (Federation of International Cricketers’ Association), the new remuneration intimated to Sri Lankan players is substantially lower (more than threefold lower) in comparison with other global cricketing nations (in respect of Board Earnings which are to be considered to be in par with SLC’s earnings). It is disheartening to the players that the Management Committee, when releasing the players’ contract information, has not in any manner attempted to reconcile these facts in any way or manner. FICA also confirms that the sums paid by ICC to cricketing boards has not reduced during the last year nor has a reduction been forecasted for the following year. Furthermore, FICA also confirms that players are allotted a certain percentage from the respective Board’s earnings in most other global jurisdictions, and such disclosures as to Board earnings are made to the players and the respective player association.

Sri Lanka Cricket has in the past paid local and foreign coaches significant sums of money (salaries of approximately over 7 Million Rupees per month) and all those facts have to be placed in context when attempting to highlight and portray payments to be made to Sri Lankan cricketers. FICA also brings to light that unlike in other global jurisdictions, players are provided with a pension schemes in together jurisdictions, However, no such pension scheme has been set up in Sri Lanka.

The players concede that Sri Lanka has dropped in international rankings in the past few years, but refuse to take the entirety of blame, as such cannot be attributed exclusively to the players, when the administration and all stakeholders are also involved in the game. Decisions taken to scrap the SLPL in 2012 until last year when the SLPL was recommenced as well as the number of clubs in Sri Lanka being doubled to 24 from the initial number of 12 have all contributed.

The players also believe that the provincial tournaments have been played in an ad hoc, on-and-off basis which is also a contributing factor.

The players are NOT in agreement to sign unfair and non-transparent contracts and urge SLC to not hold the players at gunpoint or give the players such ultimatums. Unlike in other nations when disputes arise and result in players seeking other avenues by way of franchise cricket, the Sri Lankan players will continue to be readily available to play and be selected for Sri Lanka.

Going forward, the players urge the SLC and the administrators to work on building the trust of the players, to be transparent in all matters and to fully address the concerns of players with a view to resolving the present dispute.

The players, while extending their warmest wishes to the newly-elected President of Sri Lanka Cricket, are confident that cordial dialogue could commence, to resolve these concerns at the earliest opportunity.

About the author

Vishwas Gupta