On Thursday, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 along with the health authorities issued the green light to the Sports Ministry and the Sri Lanka Cricket Board to host the Lanka Premier League after concerns were raised if the tournament could kick off amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s LPL tournament which is the first of its kind to be held in the island nation, is a tournament which was long needed in this country. Especially since the progress of local sports has seen a decline in recent years, including cricket, for which Sri Lanka earned its name and fame after winning the World Cup. Infact Sri Lanka has produced some of the best cricketing heroes of all time and continues to produce talent which has in recent years, unfortunately, not been exposed efficiently in the international arena.
Sri Lanka has long been trying to kick off the LPL but this proposal did not proceed further than discussions. However a few weeks after I was sworn in as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, the proposal was put forward to my Ministry once again and we are guiding the Sri Lanka Cricket Board to now make it a reality. While all procedures are ongoing to ensure that the tournament is held according to international standards, in recent weeks however we suffered setbacks down due to a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions were then raised if the tournament could go ahead as international players and other members are expected to arrive here for the tournament and whether the safety of players and the local public would be compromised.
However after several discussions with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the health authorities, the necessary mechanisms were discussed and the health guidelines which would strictly be in place before and during the tournament were also spoken of. Following these guidelines and plans, I, as the Minister of Sports along with the health authorities took the proposal once again to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who after studying all the guidelines discussed it with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. The green light was then given to the Ministry and the organizers.
The Sports Ministry commends the President and Prime Minister towards their commitment to proceed with economic activities even during the COVID-19 pandemic. While they lead the nation to ensure that citizens remain safe from the virus, their commitment in kickstarting the economy at the earliest is a necessity. We all know that while the virus has caused havoc across the globe, and countries have been forced to lockdown, Sri Lanka has at this crucial juncture has taken steps to ensure that the people’s livelihoods continue and the impact from the virus is minimal. Afterall, according to global health experts, the world will now have to adjust to a new normal with the presence of the coronavirus as the signs of the pandemic easing seems to be far away.
Following the greenlight issued for the LPL to continue, the Sports Ministry along with the Sri Lanka Cricket Board decided to postpone the tournament for a further week and kick it off on November 27. All matches will be played at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium in Hambantota as a ‘bubble concept’ will be adopted during the tournament. Under this concept, all ground staff, supporting staff, local players and broadcasting crew will undergo the mandatory 14 day quarantine before the tournament kicks off and all will undergo the PCR tests. International players who will be arriving to take part in the tournament will also be subjected to PCR tests while they will undergo a 7 day quarantine.
As the Minister of Sports, I assure that all those involved in organizing the LPL will strictly ensure that all health guidelines are followed for the safety of all. While many question the necessity of holding the tournament at this juncture, I would like to explain that it is time that Sri Lanka too adjusts to the ‘new normal’ in a COVID world and seriously look at strengthening the nation’s economic progress. Cricket is not just a sport or an entertainment, it brings hope for the nation, progress for the players, promotes the country and brings in economic stability. Other nations have already begun hosting international sporting events.
It is time Sri Lanka now goes ahead and promotes itself as a sports destination and looks at hosting international tournaments, not only in cricket but in all other sports as well. The direct and indirect employment it will create is tremendous. Further this will also promote our athletes in the international arena and expose them to star class training and global opportunities. Sri Lanka has the talent, we just need to look at promoting it in the most efficient manner.
Further, I am also in discussions to see the possibility of giving Sri Lankan grounds for countries to host their international tournaments. This will not only be for cricket but it will even be for sports such as football, rugby and other sports for which we have the suitable facilities. Ofcourse hereon, in the new normal world, we will ensure that during every step, health guidelines are not compromised and my ministry will work closely with all the stakeholders.
As the Minister of Sports, it is my duty to create an environment, suitable for international tournaments to be held in Sri Lanka. Doing so will benefit towards the progress of the country. This will bring in the much needed foreign exchange, promote Sri Lanka as an ideal sports destination, strengthen Sri Lanka’s tourism industry and thousands of people will benefit directly and indirectly as jobs will be created.
While I will work my best to achieve the necessary goals, I also seek the support of all sports organizations including the Sri Lanka Cricket Board to ensure transparency in all the tournaments, work towards organizing it in par with international laws and ensure that there is no corruption whatsoever. Under my leadership I will ensure that tournaments maintain their transparency.
In a post COVID world, there are challenges we all will have to face including myself. But for the benefit of the country, and all its citizens including the athletes, it is a challenge I have accepted. I look forward to the road ahead and request for the public’s support. Sri Lanka’s new journey has begun.