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Sri Lanka cricket board sacked amid power struggle - by Amal Jayasinghe

COLOMBO, March 28 (AFP) - Sri Lanka's Board of Control for Cricket (BCCSL) was sacked Wednesday by Sports Minister Lakshman Kiriella amid a court battle over control of the country's richest sports body.

Kiriella said he dissolved the BCCSL headed by President Thilanga Sumathipala with immediate effect as it had violated the sports law.

The sacking came ahead of the board's annual general meeting on Saturday.

Kiriella did not specify who would run the cricket regulatory authority, but ministry officials said he would appoint an interim panel.

The main opposition United national party (UNP) in a show of rare unity with the government welcomed the sacking of the board and asked Kiriella to consider naming a bipartisan panel.

"To bring the cricket board out of the present crisis situation, there should be an interim committee comprising competent persons representing all political parties represented in parliament," UNP MP Tyronne Fernando said.

The move came as the board failed to have the Colombo District Court lift an earlier court order restraining them from holding the annual meeting.

"We have all the paper work ready and the gazette notification will be issued at midnight tonight appointing an interim-committee," the official told AFP. "We have taken the action following a court ruling today."

The interim panel is to be announced Thursday with several retired cricket players tipped to be included.

The outgoing committee headed by Sumathipala went to court Wednesday seeking the revocation of an earlier order by the Colombo district court following a petition by a rival candidate, Sumith Perera.

Perera alleged that Sumathipala's committee had failed to provide the accounts of the organisation 30 days before the annual meeting as required by the country's laws. The court upheld that position.

Officials said the minister was stepping in to appoint an interim committee to prevent a crisis in the board, which has 800 million rupees (9.4 million dollars) in the bank.

The board has been plagued by court cases, with the government once stepping in to appoint an interim committee in 1999 to run it.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga said in March last year that she wanted retired cricketers to run the board and keep businessmen away.

The BCCSL had not been audited "in any serious way for many years" and it had become an "interesting place for people to reside in," she had noted. "I think businessmen should lay their hands off the cricket board and allow cricketers, serious sportsmen to take over the cricket board," she said.

Elections to the board in 1999 were marred by allegations of violence and rigging and following a court challenge, the then sports minister appointed an interim board.

A close relative of Kumaratunga contested the 1999 elections but was defeated by Sumathipala, a leading businessman.

Cricket has attracted hefty sponsorships since Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup win.

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