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Sri Lanka suspended by ICC for government interference

 The International Cricket Council has taken the radical step of suspending Sri Lanka’s membership with immediate effect over government interference in the running of the game in the country.

An abrupt ICC statement on Friday read: “The ICC Board met today and determined that Sri Lanka Cricket is in serious breach of its obligations as a Member, in particular, the requirement to manage its affairs autonomously and ensure that there is no government interference in the governance, regulation and/or administration of cricket in Sri Lanka”.

This brings an end to a chaotic week in Sri Lankan cricket, on and off the field. On it, they were eliminated from the World Cup after defeats to Bangladesh, during which Angelo Mathews became the first batsman in international history to be timed out, and New Zealand. Under English coach Chris Silverwood, they finished the tournament with two wins from nine games and appear unlikely to qualify for the 2025 Champions Trophy.

Off the field, the country’s sports minister Roshan Ranasinghe sought to sack the cricket board and replace it with a government-appointed “interim committee” led by Arjuna Ranatunga, the 1996 World Cup-winning captain. A day later, the country’s court of appeal prevented the overhaul of the committee.

It appears that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the view of ICC, who have suspended Sri Lanka. ESPNcricinfo reported that Sri Lanka asked the ICC board to suspend them, and that SLC president Shammi Silva (who the government had looked to depose) attended the meeting at which the decision was made.

For now, there are no official sanctions attached to the suspension, which will be discussed when the ICC board meets in Ahmedabad on November 21, after the conclusion of the World Cup. Silva – or another SLC representative – is also expected to attend that meeting in an observer’s capacity. In a letter to SLC, ICC chair Greg Barclay said the governing body still recognise Silva and his “democratically elected” board.

It is understood that it is possible that Sri Lanka’s cricket operations could be allowed to continue (so their men’s and women’s team would carry on playing), but their voting rights at the international governing body could be taken away.

It is understood that the England and Wales Cricket Board are not worried that the three Tests they have scheduled against Sri Lanka next summer would be unable too go ahead. Before then, according to the ICC Future Tours Programme, Sri Lanka’s men are due to play against Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Bangaldesh and India, while the women’s team are due to tour Sri Lanka in March. In what is a complicated situation for the ICC, Sri Lanka is due to host the men’s under-19 World Cup – an ICC event – in early 2024.

In 2019, the ICC suspended Zimbabwe over government intervention. This resulted in a ban from all forms of international cricket.

A host of national cricket boards could be accused of being subject to government intervention. Notably, earlier this week, the ICC chief executive Geoff Allardice spoke about Afghanistan, who are an ICC full member despite them not having a women’s national team since the Taliban takeover in 2021. When Afghanistan were granted full membership in 2017, Allardice says they were committed to women’s cricket, only for the Taliban to takeover. Now, the Afghanistan women’s team are currently living in exile in Australia.

“They were in the process of doing that [devloping women’s cricket] through to 2021,” Allardice said on the BBC’s Stumped podcast. “And in 2021 the regime in the country changed and has brought in rules, laws that prohibit women from playing sport in the country. Whilst we have spoken with the Afghanistan Cricket Board and their position is that they have to operate within the laws of the country and the rules set by the government.”

“The question for the ICC board is do we support our member in their ability to promote cricket within the rules set by the government of the country? And view is yes.”

On Friday, Afghanistan were ruled out of the World Cup with defeat to South Africa. In a spirited showing, they won four of their nine matches, including an historic first victory over England.

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