LPL gives birth to ‘sportainment’ during pandemic
By The Line Judge
COLOMBO – There were many naysayers who scoffed at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) for even dreaming of organizing a franchise-based T20 league with foreign stars, especially when the world was reeling because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless the Lanka Premier League (LPL) conceived during a raging viral outbreak has lifted the spirits of a nation starved of entertainment and kick-started a dormant sports economy thanks to commitment of the government and youthful Minister of Sports Namal Rajapaksa. There is no denying the fact that the LPL may have been a non-event if not for the prudent decisions taken in consultation with health authorities to reduce quarantine protocols and conduct the event in a bio-secure bubble in Hambantota. Even before the start of the tournament there was a health scare when two foreign players tested positive for the virus but hats off to the organizers for making the tournament a reality despite many teething problems.
Television viewers not only in Sri Lanka but around the world are lapping up the entertainment dished out by a galaxy of stars who are sending the ball sailing all over the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium in Sooriyaweva.
The My11Circle LPL got off to a dream start with a Super Over win for Colombo Kings against Kandy Tuskers in a high-scoring thriller with more than 450 runs scored under lights. SLC had to quash suggestions that the boundaries were shortened insisting that it was within the limits imposed by the ICC (International Cricket Council).
There was disappointment when two of the hottest stars in the world of T20 cricket – West Indian Chris Gayle and Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga – withdrew from the tournament. Nonetheless there has been no shortage of entertainment since the LPL got underway last Thursday (Nov 26) with another West Indian Andre Russell taking on the mantle of the ‘Universe Boss’ to smash a 14-ball half century – the fifth fastest T20 fifty and the fastest ever in Sri Lanka in a rain-reduced five-over clash.
Sri Lankan stars starved of international cricket and embarking on a tour of South Africa later this month displayed their hunger by striking a rich vein of form almost instantly. Kandy Tuskers skipper Kusal Janith Perera got into his stride early slamming 52-ball 87 albeit in a losing cause as former Sri Lanka skipper Dinesh Chandimal shepherded the run-chase for Colombo Kings with a well compiled 80 off 46 balls in the opener, which ended in a tie leading to a Super Over.
Former Sri Lanka T20 captain Thisara ‘Iron Man’ Perera stole the thunder by cracking a 44-ball unbeaten 97 to become the highest individual scorer in LPL so far. And on Tuesday (Dec 1) when the chips were again down against Tuskers, Jaffna Stallions skipper Perera smashed another 68 off 28, and has now hammered 12 sixes in the tournament. Avishka Fernando also stroked an unbeaten 92 off 63 balls as Stallions extended their unbeaten run.
Former West Indies all-rounder, who is here as part of the LPL commentary team, gave a thumbs-up to the tournament, which is just a week old. “Being a part of the leagues across the globe, the entertainment here has matched all the other leagues in the world. We got some exciting players – local players who are highly skilled and also there are a lot of international players who are very entertaining. None bigger than Andre Russell who has broken a record the last time he played against Galle Gladiators,” he said.
Sports have become one of the cornerstones of the entertainment industry. Sport events not only have gained momentum due to the celebration of matches, tournaments and competitions, but for everything that surrounds them. Sport fuses with entertainment towards a new definition of sport marketing, also known as sportainment. It transcends the conventional field of competition.
Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa touched on this key aspect during the opening ceremony of the LPL
“LPL will not only give an opportunity for the world to witness the vibrancy of cricket in Sri Lanka through ‘sportainment’, it will also be a platform for our upcoming players to perform in an international arena,” he declared.
“We as a government believe wholeheartedly that sports in Sri Lanka need to be taken to the next level. We are very keen in promoting an active and healthy nation through sports which will also contribute to the economic growth of the nation. Our national investment strategy on sports is not only based on infrastructure but also on human capital which includes coaching, training and creating professional athletes where I believe cricket can contribute immensely,” he added.
The sports minister’s vision to create a professional environment for athletes and the dream of building a US$ 1 billion sports economy by 2025 got a major boost when Budget 2020 passed the proposed allocation of Rs 2,000 million as an initial investment towards that goal. It also proposed an additional Rs 3,000 million to develop rural school playgrounds and rural sports activities to make it a total sum of Rs 5,000 million for sports development.
Presenting the Budget in Parliament, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Minister of Finance said the government’s objective is to expand female participation in both national and international sports events. A program will be initiated to establish synthetic tracks in Kurunegala, Jaffna, Torrington, Bogambara, and Diyagama sports complexes, he said, adding that the allocated funds will further see the establishment of a modern sports city in Sooriyawewa with information and modern technology facilities.
The prime minister said the proposals have been made as the government considers sports development a national investment, supplementing education, where sports development helps in preventing the youth from resorting to illegal activities.