Home Local CSN, SupremeSAT & Rajapaksa cocktail puts LPL transparency at stake

CSN, SupremeSAT & Rajapaksa cocktail puts LPL transparency at stake

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The owners of last year’s Lankan Premier League (LPL) winning side – Jaffna Stallions – are incensed, after tournament organizers announced last week that the Jaffna franchise would have a new owner for the tournament’s second edition.

The Stallions’ termination means that three of the league’s five teams will have new owners for the second edition of the LPL, with the Colombo and Dambulla franchises previously having been terminated. Jaffna’s new owner is Allirajah Subaskaran, founder and chairman of the Lyca Group of companies in the UK, and it seems now that the team will no longer be called Stallions. The league is now scheduled to to take place in December, having been postponed from August.

Tournament organizers Innovative Production Group (IPG) have hit back at the Stallions’ narrative, and we will get to their comments. But first, the Stallions owners’ complaints are these:

Despite having been one of only three franchises to have fulfilled their financial commitments for 2020 (this was confirmed by tournament organisers), they have been “unfairly treated” by the LPL.

The LPL’s first edition was conducted without a serious commitment to transparency, particularly as at least two franchises were being underwritten by the organisers themselves.

Their refusal to pay the franchise fees for the second edition of the tournament this far out was because of the uncertainty surrounding the tournament. They claim they had been required to make payments sometime in the middle of this year, despite their suspicion that the league would be postponed, which it ultimately was.

That their prize money for winning the inaugural edition had been delayed for months.

Meanwhile, serious concerns have been raised over the transparency of the process that selects franchise owners and the broadcaster for Lanka Premier League (LPL) following recent developments.

The Innovative Production Group (IGP), the tournament rights holder for franchises and broadcasters, this week announced the signing of a multimillion-dollar TV rights deal with the little-known local channel ‘Supreme TV’ as the local broadcaster of the month-long event. It also announced a new owner for Jaffna Stallions, the inaugural champions of the five-team tournament.

A joint statement by IPG and Lycamobile said: “Winner of the inaugural edition of the Lanka Premier League (LPL) Jaffna Stallions have a new owner as Sri Lanka-born British entrepreneur, Allirajah Subaskaran, enters the second season of the premier T20 tournament of the Island Nation by acquiring the Jaffna-based franchise in the tournament.”

The new owner renamed it ‘Jaffna Kings’ to avoid any legal battles with the former owners who are disgruntled by the latest development. The team was held by a consortium, including investors from North America, England, India, Australia and Canada.

When discussions were ongoing in June to conduct the second edition in July/August, the Jaffna Stallions weren’t happy given the heavy international cricket schedule and the conduct of the Caribbean Premier League during the same period. The following month, the IPG unexpectedly sent a letter of termination through its lawyers to which the franchise responded through its own counsel.

However, no dispute resolution mechanism was utilised and communications from multiple lawyers of Jaffna Stallions have not been responded to.

Despite this, in August, IPG has sent a term sheet which Jaffna Stallions had duly signed, agreeing to payment terms. Neither Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) nor IPG has so far issued an official communique with regard to the termination of Jaffna Stallions as they did with Colombo Kings and Dambulla Vikings.

The handing over ownership, therefore, raised more than a few eyebrows.

A spokesman from Jaffna Stallions, who still own the brand, speaking to the Sunday Times said they were deeply shocked by the organiser’s unilateral decision to terminate ownership at a time they were looking forward to the tournament’s second edition.

“The US investors were briefed on what happened,” he said.

“They were shocked by how our championships franchise was handed over to another party. The reason given was citing KYC (Know Your Customer) details. We verified with the ICC, which confirmed to us that the KYC was fine. In fact, ICC officials also described us as a ‘model franchise’ in terms of transparency and integrity.”

The decision on selecting franchises and broadcaster’s solely rest with the event organiser–the IPG group. Subaskaran is the founder and chairman of Lyca Group of companies in the UK and owns the local TV channel Swarnavahini. His charity arm, Gnanam Foundation, is one of the sponsors of Sri Lanka Athletics.

In 2013, Lycamobile purchased Red Steel Franchise of the Caribbean Premier League but gave up before the second edition of the tournament. In 2016, French police launched an inquiry into alleged criminal activity by individuals at his company. No legal proceedings were taken against Lycamobile itself.

Meanwhile, the announcement of Supreme TV as official broadcaster in Sri Lanka also created a stir as the little-known television company reportedly paid a sum of US$ 10mn, approximately Rs. 2bn, for the rights. SLC admitted selection was not done through a tender. A high-ranking official maintained it had political backing.

“The multi-year agreement, positioned as one of the biggest broadcast deals so far in the Island Nation, will help LPL penetrate deep into every nook and corner of the country and Supreme TV is committed to play an integral part in the television and digital transmission of the LPL starting from the second season,” a press release issued jointly by IPG and Supreme TV read.

The Supreme TV is owned by R.M. Manivannan, a 46-year-old local businessman. He became widely known under Mahinda Rajapaksa administration in the pre-2015 period for his forays into satellite technology. He claimed to have launched

Sri Lanka’s first satellite with Chinese collaboration. It turned out to be a joint-branding of a Chinese satellite where SupremeSAT leased part of its ‘communications payload’.

Rohitha Rajapaksa, the youngest son of present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, was also given a shareholding in SupremeSAT through a company named Dycer International. Rohitha Rajapaksa was 100 percent owner of Dycer International.

It’s learnt that in order to get wider coverage, the channel is likely to utilise the facilities of now-defunct sports channel, Carlton Sports Network or CSN. CSN was owned by the Rajapaksas but was shut down when the Yahapalanaya government took over in 2015. The Independent Television Network (ITN) was the local broadcaster last year and had reportedly paid Rs. 20mn.

ESPN CricInfo / Sunday Times

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