Namal’s gazette notification on Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) likely to be revoked, Rizly Illyas’ committee to be reinstated?
By Marlon Dale Ferreira
The Court of Appeal on Friday (13) issued an Interim Order suspending the enactments of the Government gazette issued by former Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa temporarily suspending Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR).
The order will be in effect until Thursday, 30 June 2022.
Additional Solicitor General, President’s Counsel (PC) Sumathi Dharmawardena, appearing on behalf of the fourth respondent of the case – the Director General Sports Development of the Ministry of Sports Amal Edirisooriya – had provided an official undertaking that he will instruct the incoming Sports Minister to revoke the said 1 April gazette.
Two days after issuing the 1 April gazette temporarily suspending SLR, Namal Rajapaksa resigned from his ministerial position owing to the existing volatile socio-political situation in the country.
SLR’s writ application
SLR had filed a writ application last month – number CA/Writ/148/2022 – against the said 1 April gazette through its team of lawyers – PC Faisz Musthapha, Senior Counsel and Sports Law expert Panduka Keerthinanda, Keerthi Thilakaratne Attorney-at-law (AAL), instructed by Sanjeewa Kaluarachchi (AAL).
They had named six respondents which included two former Sports Ministers, Namal Rajapaksa and his successor Thenuka Vidanagamage.
The fourth respondent in the case, Edirisooriya, is incidentally the appointed Competent Authority to oversee the administrative and operational functions of SLR following the suspension of its elected body under President Rizly Illyaz.
No objection by Edirisooriya
As SLR’s incumbent Competent Authority, Edirisooriya is to conduct the forthcoming SLR Annual General Meeting (AGM) too, scheduled to be held on Saturday, 28 May with the assistance of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL).
When the matter was taken up in the Court of Appeal on Friday, PC Sumathi Dharmawardena, the Additional Solicitor General of the Attorney General’s Department who appeared for Edirisooriya, stated that Edirisooriya had informed that he does not object to the 1 April gazette being revoked.
After appointment of new Sports Minister
Dharmawardena had then informed the sitting Court of Appeal judges, Sobhitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ganepola, that he would undertake to instruct the new Minister of Sports to revoke the 1 April gazette issued by Rajapaksa.
The present Government under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in on Thursday (12), is expected to appoint a new Sports Minister in due course.
The previous Government, under Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, was forced to step down due to anti-Government protests as well as riots on 9 May. Vidanagamage was the outgoing Youth and Sports Minister in that Government.
The Court of Appeal then ordered that this case be taken up again on Thursday, 30 June 2022.
Edirisooriya, when contacted by The Morning Sports on Friday (13) said, “Yes, I provided my consent in a letter addressed to the Attorney General stating that I have no objection in the lifting of the temporary suspension on SLR which was made law by the said gazette.”
He also added: “I also stated that the issue regarding the suspension of the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) membership with SLR will remain as it is. The matter could be resolved by SLR once the new Sports Minister is appointed.”
Meanwhile Senior Counsel and Sports Law expert Panduka Keerthinanda, who appeared for SLR, said, “Today (Friday) was a great victory for Sri Lanka sports, especially for SLR.”
He went on to say: “We are hopeful that in future, there won’t be any unlawful political interference to any Sports Federation in the country. SLR now has the opportunity to move forward freely.
“I must reiterate that we do not harbour or hold any grudges against anyone. We have come before judiciary to fight against the unlawful and the mala fide (carried out in bad faith or with intent to deceive) act of suspension of SLR. Justice shall be for all.”
SRI LANKA’S RUGBY HULLABALOO
- Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR), formerly the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU), has been the game’s local governing body for nearly 100 years
- In the 1990s, through a constitutional amendment, a provincial system was introduced, mainly for player registration and voting
- Due to this new voting system, the Western Province gained “an undue advantage” as all “A” division clubs, except Kandy Sports Club, were based in it and dominated every election
- SLR is under World Rugby (WR), the Ministry of Sports in Sri Lanka, country’s Sports Law, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the Olympic Charter
- Prior to the SLR Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 29 July 2020, a complaint was made to the Ministry of Sports that the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU), along with several other affiliates, had not paid their annual membership fees to SLR
- As a result, they became ineligible to vote at any SLR meeting
- As per the Sports Law, Sports Minister Dullas Alahapperuma appointed a committee about two years ago to inquire into this issue
- Based on its findings, Alahapperuma on 17 July 2020 suspended the SLR members, including WPRFU, who had not paid their subscription fees
- Rizly Illyas was subsequently elected as SLR President uncontested on 29 July 2020
- Later SLR Executive Committee (Ex-Co) agreed to accept the arrears of the WPRFU and reinstate their SLR membership
- Alahapperuma’s successor Namal Rajapaksa, appointed an Advisory Committee for the development of rugby on 1 November 2021, reportedly with the consent of Asia Rugby (AR)
- This Advisory Committee was headed by Asanga Seneviratne, current member of Asia Rugby Ex-Co
- On 1 April 2022, Rajapaksa issued a Govt. gazette temporarily suspending SLR and appointed Director General of Sports Development Amal Edirisooriya as the Competent Authority for administration and operational functions of SLR and also to oversee the conduct of its next AGM
- The alleged reason for the suspension was SLR entertaining “suspended members” from attending its meetings, violating SLR’s Constitution whilst not adhering to Alahapperuma’s former directive
- As Rajapaksa resigned as Sports Minister on 3 April, owing to the volatile socioeconomic situation in the country, SLR filed a case at the Court of Appeal against the Sports Ministry’s gazette
- On 9 April 2022, AR temporarily suspended SLR’s membership
- During 20-24 April 2022, AR sent a delegate to Sri Lanka on a fact-finding mission. The delegate had met with all SLR stakeholders
- On 29 April 2022, AR sent the Ministry of Sports a letter stating that the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) will conduct the SLR AGM/elections on 28 May 2022, expecting a response from the Ministry of Sports by 6 May 2022
- AR conducted an Extraordinary Sub Meeting on 30 April 2022 and unanimously decided to ratify their Ex-Co’s 9 April decision and imposed “a full membership suspension” of SLR until further notice
- SLR responded to the banning saying that AR’s full suspension pertained only to the tournaments organised by AR. SLR said it would continue to take part in the upcoming Commonwealth Games and Asian Games (which was postponed indefinitely on 6 May), and also conduct its local tournaments
- NOCSL President Suresh Subramaniam fully condemned both the Ministry of Sports’ and AR’s suspension of SLR saying that they look forward to conducting the next SLR AGM
- The case filed by SLR against the Ministry of Sports challenging its 1 April gazette was taken up at the Court of Appeal on 4 May and was rescheduled for coming 12 May
- Due to the prevailing volatile situation in the country, the 12 May court hearing was rescheduled to 26 May but was later taken up on Friday (13) through a special motion due to the urgency of the issue