What lies beneath Sri Lanka cricket's convoluted suspension saga?

Shammi Silva, president of Sri Lanka's cricket board, chairs a meeting after the reinstatement of the SLC committee Ishara S Kodikara / © AFP/Getty Images

When parsing situations as complex and dynamic as Sri Lanka Cricket's current suspension from the ICC, it is helpful to attempt to pin down the main actors' motivations. People in power rarely spell these out. But plenty can be surmised from their actions and their timing, the emphases and content of their public comments, as well as from their histories. A lot of this is circumstantial evidence. But in this case, there is a lot of it.

At the heart of it, SLC's suspension is really a political tangle masquerading as a cricket crisis. Let's work backwards, peeling back a layer at a time.

The most recent actor in this vortex of cricket and politics is Sri Lanka's president Ranil Wickremesinghe, who on November 27 sacked sports minister Roshan Ranasinghe, whom SLC officials had been feuding with for a year.

It was Ranasinghe's interference in SLC matters that supposedly precipitated SLC's "suspension" by the ICC, so the president's sacking of Ranasinghe was ostensibly to set SLC back on the path as an ICC Full Member, correct?

Well, it's not that simple. For more than two weeks after SLC was suspended, Wickremesinghe did not move to sack, or even censure, this cabinet minister. The president made no moves against Ranasinghe when the ICC announced Sri Lanka had lost hosting rights to the Under-19 Men's World Cup, on November 21, either.

In fact, this sacking only came hours after Ranasinghe (who belongs to a different political party from the president), accused Wickremesinghe and one of his senior aides of possibly moving to physically harm him, in parliament. Ranasinghe was promptly sacked not only as sports minister but also relieved of his other portfolios - youth affairs, and irrigation. A cynical reading might claim that President Wickremesinghe only sacked Ranasinghe when he became a nuisance to him personally.

Or maybe the timing was mere coincidence, and Wickremesinghe was truly looking out for the state of cricket, by far the best-loved sport in the country over which he presides.


On November 21, the ICC board issued a release confirming that Sri Lanka would no longer host next year's U-19 Men's World Cup. At the same time, it announced Sri Lanka would be allowed to play bilateral cricket despite the suspension. After all, the ICC's board is allowed under its Articles of Association (section 2.10) to make a suspension mean whatever it deems fit, however hollow that renders the term.

In the release announcing the suspension itself, on November 10, the ICC said only that SLC was in "serious breach" in the matter of managing "its affairs autonomously… [with] no government interference in the governance". This was in the week Sri Lanka's sports minister sacked Sri Lanka Cricket's entire board and replaced it with an interim committee.

So this is the ICC acting in the interests of the global game, right? No governments can be allowed to intrude on the running of cricket, and the ICC is voraciously defending the game in all its territories. After all, in section 2.4(D) of its Articles of Association, the ICC requires that its members manage their affairs "autonomously and ensure there is no government interference…"

Well, it's not quite that simple.

When the ICC put in place its suspension, it was Sri Lanka Cricket's ICC-ratified elected office bearers who were actually in power, and not the government's committee. In fact, these officials had only ever been out of power for about 24 hours, having much earlier in the week been reinstated by Sri Lanka's judiciary via a stay order on the sports minister's installation of the interim committee.

As the judiciary is an arm of the Sri Lankan government, the government had, in essence, itself checked what it deemed a potential overreach of the executive branch. Four weeks later, SLC president Shammi Silva and his fellow office bearers remain in place as heads of the nation's cricket administration. The ICC's suspension of SLC, and its subsequent taking away of the U-19 World Cup hosting rights is essentially because of a roughly 24-hour period in which Silva and Co. were ousted.

Since the passing of Sri Lanka's sports law in 1973, every national squad that Sri Lanka has ever named, has had to be ratified by the nation's sports minister. Although unusual, it is certainly not unheard of, even in the last ten years, for ministers to flex their muscle on matters of selection. The ICC has never suspended Sri Lanka over this practice, despite that very section of its Articles of Association stating explicitly that "selection and management of teams" is a process in which government cannot interfere.

And though the ICC sent its deputy chair, Imran Khwaja, to Sri Lanka in July to look into possible government interference, Khwaja arrived at the invitation of SLC's officials, and is understood to not have found serious evidence that would warrant a suspension at the time.

It is possible, of course, that the ICC has only recently begun to take this dim a view of government interference, and aims to be a body that acts with diligence and consistency. And that its actions have all been in service of the health of the game in Sri Lanka.


On November 15, Sri Lanka Cricket initiated a defamation lawsuit against sports minister Ranasinghe, claiming that "in response to [his] persistent and damaging defamatory statements… SLC has taken a decisive step to protect its reputation and integrity".

What reputation and integrity SLC had in the public eye in the first place is now for the courts to decide, but this is not an institution renowned for covering itself in glory.

But SLC, and its president Silva in particular, has repeatedly asked the "top level" of Sri Lankan government to provide assurances that there would be no further government intervention at SLC. They have asked that plans to replace them with an interim committee be halted, because unless this interference is stopped, the ICC will not ease up on its suspension.

Of course, again, it's not that simple. It is understood that SLC asked for its own board to be suspended by the ICC in order to impress upon the Sri Lankan government, and the Sri Lankan public, that the ICC would not tolerate government interference in cricket administration.

SLC officials banked on the Sri Lankan public viewing the ICC as a global body that operates uniformly, and even-handedly, and sits several levels above the mud bath that often characterises the intersection of cricket and politics in Sri Lanka. In fact, SLC has claimed in a release that it "lacks the authority to influence decisions made by the ICC".

But when asked directly at a press conference on November 11 whether they themselves had asked the ICC for the suspension, board president Silva said only this: "If I can pull strings like that, I've got to be an impressive person." Weeks later, there has not been an outright denial; only this kind of skirting of the question.

More recently, when Sri Lanka lost hosting rights to the U-19 World Cup, Silva attempted to paint this as barely an inconvenience. "There's no loss to us because of the Under-19 World Cup [removal], is there? The team is training as usual, and they will be going to the Under-19 World Cup and the Asia Cup, both."

At first glance this is not the response of an official whose board fought to keep this tournament in Sri Lanka. When asked what the discussion within the ICC board had been ahead of the hosting rights being taken away, Silva only said that "it was a very confidential meeting" and that "I said there was serious political interference".

Asked whether this objection to "political interference" extended to the decades-old practice of Sri Lanka's sports minister signing off on all representative teams, again SLC's board members spent several minutes dodging the question.

Perhaps, as the board has implied, it is not directly responsible for the loss of hosting rights, and the ICC's decision was reached with minimal influence from SLC's officials. And it is possible that in the process of looking out for their own positions as heads of the board, they are also looking out for Sri Lankan cricket.


Days before ex-sports minister Ranasinghe sacked the board and installed his interim committee, he sent letters to the other Full Member ICC nations, accusing SLC of corruption and mismanagement.

Setting aside the corruption allegations, some of Ranasinghe's claims about Sri Lankan cricket having declined under the present set of board officials are difficult to argue with. Sri Lanka's men's side has not made a semi-final in an ICC tournament since 2014, and have had to play in qualifiers for the three most recent World Cups.

Women's cricket in the country is perennially underfunded. And though the senior team has had its best ever year in 2023, winning series against New Zealand and England for the first time, the team is still over-reliant on one superstar - Chamari Athapaththu - and has never made a global tournament semi-final.

Perhaps there is a part of Ranasinghe that genuinely wanted to bring positive change to Sri Lankan cricket, and he certainly has his admirers among cricket fans and media. But it's not that simple. The interim committee he appointed in early November was headed by Arjuna Ranatunga, who has been deeply embedded within the political establishment for two decades now; elsewhere, the committee featured former judges, and sons of politicians, who had no known experience in cricket administration.

According to polls, and whatever public sentiment can be gauged from last year's gargantuan public protests, Ranasinghe's party is also facing major political problems. Being publicly seen to be engineering a route out of Sri Lanka's cricket crisis would have been a significant political boost to him.

Ranasinghe has now been sacked, but the man who has replaced him, Harin Fernando, has in his first week announced in parliament who the head of Sri Lanka's next selection committee will be, as if that should be the sports minister's call to make.


There is a chance that Sri Lanka's president, the ICC, SLC, and its sports ministers have been motivated by doing right by Sri Lanka cricket. But if this is true, they are all failing.

Sri Lanka's men's team is ranked eighth in T20Is, has failed to qualify for an ICC tournament for the first time in its history (the 2025 Champions Trophy), and are ranked seventh in Tests and ODIs. The women's team is seventh in both formats they play.

There is a chance those in power are merely incompetent on the matter of Sri Lankan cricket. But it seems more likely that former sports minister Ranasinghe's months-long campaign had more to do with carving out political capital for himself than with correcting Sri Lankan cricket's decline.

It seems more likely that SLC officials don't actually mind political interference that embeds them further within the system (they frequently work with sports ministers), and only rage against it to the extent they are willing to have their own board suspended when political interference threatens them.

More likely that those who hold power at the ICC allow manipulations such as the suspension of SLC because they are more concerned with power dynamics within the board and quid-pro-quos, rather than on administering the global game with an even hand.

More likely that Sri Lanka's president is more incensed by the rankling within the coalition that appointed him to his position (he was never elected by the people), than by the state of Sri Lanka's cricket.

You wonder, all told, who is left to look out for players who have been calling for greater investment in facilities, for coaches and support staff who must necessarily play political games to stay in their positions, and most of all, for the millions of fans still hurting from another abysmal showing at a World Cup.